From Ghana to the GTA: UTM geography prof studies health care access and immigration

Ghanian woman carries basket of groundnuts on her head and a baby on her back
Monday, September 11, 2017 - 9:28am
Blake Eligh

How will aging populations change policies in Sub-Saharan Africa? Is access to maternal health care making a difference for women in Ghana? Does having deep roots in one’s homeland help new immigrants assimilate in a new country? These are just a few of the questions that drive the research of Vincent Kuuire, a new assistant professor of geography at U of T Mississauga.

Kuuire, who hails from Ghana, studies issues of migration, transnationalism, health care access and Sub-Saharan Africa. His Ghana-based research investigates health care at both ends of the human life cycle—maternal health and aging populations, while a Canadian study looks at the assimilation of immigrants into Canadian society.

One of Kuuire’s studies investigates changes to women’s health care in Ghana over time. “Ghana is one of the few African countries with a pro-poor health insurance scheme,” he says. The new system, which was introduced in 2004, allows all pregnant women to access health care free of charge. “My research examines the extent to which the health insurance scheme in Ghana has succeeded in bridging the health care access gap between the rich and poor. By studying the specific differences between access of maternal health in urban and rural areas, we can see which populations are benefitting or being left behind.”

Vincent Kuuire

A second study considers the emerging and unusual patterns of age-related health issues in Ghana. For the first time in its history, the Sub-Saharan country has enough people over the age of 60 to qualify as having an “aging population” by World Health Organization standards. According to WHO statistics, the number of older persons in Sub-Saharan Africa aged 60 years or more doubled between 1990 and 2016, from 23 million to 46 million people. By 2050, that number is projected to be 161 million.

“As more people live longer lives, we know that they become susceptible to diseases like hypertension, heart disease and diabetes,” Kuuire says. At the same time, communicable diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and malaria remain the largest cause of sickness and death in Sub-Saharan Africa. “This goes against what we think we know about developing countries, and creates a double burden of disease,” Kuuire says.

Collaborating with the deputy country director of the WHO's Study on Global AGEing and Adult Health in Ghana, Kuuire is analyzing data on adult aging. “I’m specifically interested in non-communicable diseases and neighbourhood effects,” Kuuire says. “We know that Africa and many parts of the developing world will contribute most to the aging population of the world in the coming decades. For many Sub-Saharan African countries, social protection policies and networks necessary for ensuring that older people life a fulfilling life simply don’t exist. As many Sub-Saharan countries move in the same direction as the rest of the world, this research will have implications for development of social protection polices, specialized health care systems or understanding the trends of chronic conditions of an aging population.”

Kuuire has also launched a research project closer to UTM, and recently began work on a study of how immigrants to Canada maintain ties to their homelands, and the impacts those ties may have on their assimilation into their adopted country. He will be surveying and interviewing Columbian and Filipino participants who have settled within the greater Toronto area. “In the last few years, we’ve had some policy narratives that suggest immigrants are unable to effectively integrate into their new environments,” Kuuire says. “This can be seen as a sign of disloyalty to the new environment, however, that characterization is problematic. There is evidence that tapping into resources, especially social networks from home countries, could act as important factors influencing immigrant integration into their new environments.”

“Immigrants won’t suddenly cut ties with a home nation,” Kuuire says. “It’s important to keep tabs on what immigrants perceive as important contributors to their integration, instead of looking only at destination factors. It provides a more three-dimensional understanding of the important relationships between immigrant transnational activities and their integration in their host society.”

In addition to his research, Kuuire will be teaching classes in Geography of Health and Health Care, and Cities and Immigrants at UTM.