Photo courtesy of Olive Wahoush.

HHE Member Profile

Dr. Olive Wahoush has been an advocate and researcher of refugee health care since 1987. She came to this topic first through teaching undergraduate nurses maternal newborn health in a refugee camp in Jordan in the 1987 and later through hospital administration and volunteer roles in Pakistan and Canada. Olive trained as a nurse in Northern Ireland during the 1970s a period of civil conflict, during that time she was exposed to ethical issues around triage, resource allocation, discrimination, and direct patient care. Later during her time as a nurse educator and leader in the Middle East and Pakistan she became interested in global health issues when she was exposed to situations where populations were on the move, capacity development was essential in health service programs and in health professional education.

Olive emigrated to Canada in 1992 and continued to build on her interests in maternal and child health, community engagement and outreach to include vulnerable and underserved groups in Hamilton and Toronto. She completed her PhD at UofT and her doctoral research examined health care access and experiences of refugee and refugee claimant families in Hamilton. Through her roles at the School of Nursing at McMaster University, Olive was instrumental is leading and promoting research with refugees, newcomers and other underserved populations. Many undergraduate and graduate students now complete experiential learning placements in Hamilton, Toronto and Internationally with agencies serving refugees and other underserved groups.

When it comes to health for refugees as they work to settle in a new environment, Olive sees equitable outcomes as a fundamental ethical concern, it is not enough to focus on access, some people need more help than others to get to the same outcome. For example newcomers such as refugees need time, language development and information about their adopted country and the new systems they need to use to live well. When asked about what the main priorities are for refugee healthcare abroad, Olive identified respect and recognition of refugees’ situations and conditions [or, refugeedom] as a priority area for researchers concerned with ethical dimensions of care or of research. Although there are common concerns across refugee populations that enable rapid response programming, there are also significant differences related to the circumstances such as war or climate change and history affecting populations, settings and individuals.

Recent research Olive has been involved in or leading include studies focused on reproductive health, health and resettlement of refugee and refugee like families in Canada and exploring the selection process for refugees in transit countries like Jordan. She has recently become a co-investigator on the HHE project exploring ethical aspects related to palliative care in humanitarian crisis situations. She has made invaluable connections with practitioners, academics and researchers on the ground in Jordan in order to learn about the provision of palliative care in refugee contexts (in camps and in urban settings) in that country.

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