For nearly two decades, conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo has caused hundreds of thousands of people to seek refuge in other countries. Within the last year alone, an estimated 239 Congolese refugees have settled in Johnson County, Iowa. A project to improve health care access for this population is now underway thanks to generous public support provided through a new crowdfunding venture.
“This project is focused on understanding the health care needs of the Congolese refugee community in Johnson County,” says Will Story, the project’s leader and CPH assistant professor of community and behavior health. “That’s both working with families to understand the intentions of physicians and health care providers, but also helping physicians understand some of the barriers—cultural, language, transportation—that people are facing when they’re coming into a brand new place.”
Culturally Competent Care
The “Health for All” project was one of three projects selected by the University of Iowa to pilot its new GOLDrush online crowdfunding platform. Unveiled last fall, the month-long campaign had a goal to raise $10,000 for each project. Story’s project raised a total of $10,711 donated by colleagues, local physicians, and concerned citizens.
The team is currently focusing on improving access to existing health services for women and children. Story is collaborating closely with Denise Martinez, a family physician at the UI Carver College of Medicine, to ensure health care providers are delivering culturally competent care and that patients understand the health care system and trust the providers within that system.
“I saw that they were having a difficult time navigating our health care system, and sometimes were having difficulty with pregnancy,” Martinez says about the Congolese patients in her practice.
Other partners include Zadok Nampala, a refugee health advisor and community liaison, as well as IC Compassion, a local community-based organization, who are helping to engage the Congolese community on their health needs and obstacles to care.
Opening New Doors
In addition to reaching the fundraising goal, the campaign also helped to establish new connections, Story adds.
“People now know that I’m working with refugees in the Iowa City area, which has opened doors to new partnerships with people who have years of experience working with refugees, as well as additional funding opportunities,” Story says.
A few weeks after the campaign launched, Story attended a refugee assistance meeting at a local church and was shocked to discover many of the people there knew about his project.
“I hadn’t met the majority of them. There were about 100 people there: refugees, community leaders, politicians, public health officials from the state and county level. Those kinds of connections are invaluable to get a community-based project like this going,” Story says.
This story originally appeared in the spring 2017 issue of InSight.