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Mobile women's health clinic launches on the Downtown Eastside

A mobile medical clinic for women has launched on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (Image credit: Vancouver Aboriginal Health Society) A mobile medical clinic for women has launched on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (Image credit: Vancouver Aboriginal Health Society)

A new program on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside will help connect women to vital primary health care services, eliminating barriers in an attempt to save lives.

"This is our most vulnerable population, the women are so vulnerable," said Rosemary Stager-Wallace, the executive director of Vancouver Aboriginal Health Society.

"We really seriously feel that this van is going to save lives."

The Women’s Mobile Primary Care Program is a partnership between the Vancouver Aboriginal Health Society and the First Nations Aboriginal Primary Care Network. The van will operate three days a week, to start, and will be parked outside of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, Ravens Lodge and the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre. All services will be available by drop-in, and no ID or care card is required.

"This is to really reach the women where they're at and really eliminate a lot of the barriers that they face in accessing the care that they need," Stager-Wallace said, noting that while some barriers are straightforward and logistical, others are more insidious and systemic.

"We do have a high population of Indigenous women, and they don't feel safe or they have a fear of racism within the health-care system. If you have an addiction, you tend to be judged harshly."

The mobile clinic will offer general check-ups as well as sexual and reproductive health care including pap smears, birth control, and STI testing. All of the services will be delivered in a culturally safe and supportive environment, with an all-woman team comprised of Indigenous knowledge keepers, elders and healers working alongside doctors, nurses, and social workers.

"A lot of the Indigenous women were in the '60s Scoop or were in the foster care system, and just don't have that much connection to their culture," Stager-Wallace said, adding that the care provided emphasizes a holistic approach to health.

"We want it to feel as safe as possible for the women to access the care. 

A neighbourhood profile published by Vancouver Coastal Health in 2013 outlined some of the same concerns that Stager-Wallace said the mobile program is trying to address. It identified "poverty, discrimination, trauma, and violence" as among the issues disproportionately faced by residents of the Downtown Eastside. Rates of premature death and communicable diseases were found to be the highest of any area in the city.

"Many traditional services do not adequately serve these highly vulnerable populations, and challenges faced include identifying innovative approaches to primary care, specialty medical care, dental care, and mental health care for those populations who are the most vulnerable and marginalized in the city," the report found.

In the 10 years since it was published, new crises have emerged including a drug poisoning epidemic that has killed more than 11,000 people in the province since 2016. Other crises have persisted or worsened, including rates of homelessness and violence against Indigenous women and girls.

"We need to do something different because we're losing so many people every day on the Downtown Eastside. We need to try to think outside the box and change the way we're doing things," Stager-Wallace said.

The exact hours of operation for the mobile program are still being finalized. Top Stories

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