Innovative COVID-19 Health Navigator Initiative Launched

April 9, 2020

A new, innovative Health Navigator initiative has just launched to help newcomers understand what is happening with COVID-19, while giving International Medical Graduates (IMGs) unable to practice in Canada a meaningful way to give back.

MOSAIC, one of Canada’s largest settlement and employment agencies helping immigrants, refugees and all newcomers integrate into the Canadian fabric, has hit the ground running to launch this partnership to support the overburdened health system during COVID-19.

Health Navigator links trained staff and volunteers with a newcomer who needs help navigating online portals to determine if they need further COVID testing. This creative delivery service model was launched as part of a collaboration with the Burnaby Division of Family Practice, to serve the health-care needs of Burnaby’s population who do not speak English or don’t have access to computers or the internet.

So far, MOSAIC has 17 staff trained in the Health Navigator program (two of whom are IMGs) and one IMG refugee who is volunteering his time. All told, they are able to provide support in more than 18 languages.

The program is co-managed by Zarghoona Wakil. Back in Kyrgyz Republic, one would have addressed Zarghoona as Dr. Wakil – acknowledging her nine plus years of studies and medical training to become a doctor specializing in internal medicine. Yet, here in Canada — a country she entered in 2005 as a government assisted refugee — Wakil can’t use her professional designation; to do so, she says she would have to spend several years to overcome the existing systemic barriers that are currently part of the Canadian medical system.

After leaving BC Multicultural Health Services Society as a cross-cultural health facilitator, Wakil joined MOSAIC in 2013 where she is a senior manager of specialized and innovative programs, including overseeing MOSAIC health promotion programs. “MOSAIC is being creative in involving IMGs knowledge and experience, in the organization and through community collaborations, to benefit the Canadian system,” says Wakil. “It’s important that their knowledge isn’t wasted; that we don’t add to the brain waste.”

The first to jump aboard was the Burnaby Division of Family Practice; approximately 50% of the current Burnaby population are immigrants. Their website leads people through a series of self-assessment questions to determine if they need further COVID testing. Easy for someone familiar with the Canadian medical system, but challenging for someone with a language barrier, or a lack of access to online tools.

Executive Director of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice, Georgia Bekiou, says, “Our partnership with MOSAIC is invaluable. It helps us to make sure that we are culturally sensitive in responding to the whole narrative of patient population in a cultural way. It is a seamless collaboration. MOSAIC stepped up to offer skills of the team in the community response work that are absolutely invaluable.”

Working with MOSAIC, the partnership relies on medical clinics and settlement agencies to direct Burnaby-based immigrants to a dedicated phone line where they leave their name, phone number and language-support needs. The information is then relayed to staff where the person is matched to someone who can virtually walk them through the Burnaby Division’s online self-assessment process during COVID-19.

“MOSAIC’s objective is to build partnerships that allow for and contribute to equitable health care for newcomers, while optimizing the knowledge and skills of IMGs,” says Director of Family and Settlement Services Sherman Chan. “It’s a way someone can contribute and give back to Canada during this COVID-19 pandemic.”

More information about MOSAIC’s Health Navigator initiative is available by calling Zarghoona Wakil at 778-861-4814.

MOSAIC is an acronym for Multi-lingual Orientation Service Association for Immigrant Communities. With over 40 programs, MOSAIC provides employment services, family services, language instruction, legal information, settlement services, and victim and family violence services from multiple sites in Metro Vancouver. MOSAIC also operates the WorkBC Centres in various locations, as well as MOSAIC Translations and Interpretations Services. To learn more, please visit