Dr. Arun Garg: Fraser Health's South Asian Health Institute laid foundation for stronger response to COVID-19 pandemic

The former president of Doctors of B.C. says the world has become very attuned to the importance of culture in achieving better health outcomes

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      Cultural sensitivity and understanding can save human lives.

      That was the message from Dr. Arun Garg at the Canada India Network Society conference, which is being held online this weekend.

      Garg is the founder and chair of CINS, as well as a former president of Doctors of B.C.

      In his address, he maintained that for the first time in modern history, the world is very much attuned to the importance of "culture as a health factor".

      "In some ways, COVID has been a very critical component of transformation," Garg said.

      As an example, he cited how medical researchers are questioning why people of colour, including those of African and South Asian ancestry, were disproportionately hit by COVID-19.

      He also stated that the Fraser Health Authority's South Asian Health Institute—created in 2010—helped blunt the impact of the pandemic in the Lower Mainland.

      That's because the SAHI forged connections between health officials and gurdwaras and temples over the past decade.

      In addition, the SAHI focused greater attention on the impact and prevalence of chronic diseases in the South Asian community.

      “Thousands of people were vaccinated who would not have been vaccinated otherwise," Garg said. "Temples [and] gurdwaras were used.”

      He added that some of the people who were immunized did not have personal health information numbers. But they could still be contacted as a result of the SAHI's outreach efforts.

      According to the SAHI website, South Asians are two to three times more likely to develop heart and kidney disease, strokes, and diabetes 10 years earlier than those in other ethnic groups.

      The SAHI works with places of worship to create healthy daily meals.

      In addition, it partners with local business leaders to codesign culturally relevant healthy-eating activities and services in workplaces.

      Video: Fraser Health posted this video on YouTube explaining how the South Asian Health Institute promotes culturally relevant health progams.