Canadian Pharmacists Association
Canadian Pharmacists Association

Welcoming Syrian Refugees – Resources for Pharmacists

The first of the Syrian Refugees began arriving last week in Toronto and in Montreal. The majority of the refugees arriving before January 1 are privately sponsored and although many of these initial refugees will be remaining in Quebec and Ontario, communities across the country are also welcoming them. Over the coming months, many refugees will be seeking health services in their communities and will require prescription drugs for various conditions. Under the Government’s plan, all Syrian Refugees whether they are privately or publicly sponsored, will be eligible for health benefits under the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) which includes Prescription Drug coverage.

The following information is intended to provide some resources for pharmacists who might engage with these refugees:

  • A full immigration medical exam will be conducted including screening for communicable diseases (such as tuberculosis) as part of the immigration process before arrival in Canada. In addition, all refugees will be screened for signs of illness when they arrive in Canada, as per the Quarantine Act and treatment will be available if anyone is ill.
  • For all Syrian refugees, the IFHP will provide basic coverage during any waiting periods imposed by a province or territory or during the period where the client has not yet applied for or been issued their Provincial/Territorial health coverage.  In addition, the IFHP will provide Syrian refugees with coverage for supplemental services and prescription medications for one year. Prescription Drug Coverage includes prescription medications and other products listed on provincial-territorial public drug plan formularies.  
  • Upon arrival in Canada, each refugee will be issued an Interim Federal Health Certificate of Eligibility with a client ID that can be used by health providers to process payment for services (see sample). They will also be given an information sheet that provides them with information on the program and how to access some of these services. These sheets will be translated in English/French/Arabic and they will be encouraged to bring the sheets with them when they go to see their health providers.
  • Medavie Blue Cross is the benefit administrator and provides several options for providers to determine whether the service or product is covered or not under the IFHP depending on their type (hospital, doctor, pharmacists, etc). Claims can be mailed, faxed or submitted electronically to Medavie Blue Cross with the applicable information.
    • For pharmacies, this is done through Pharmacy Claims for Point of Sale (POS) Claims Transmissions: Pharmacy providers can verify coverage for specific drugs in real time and submit claims electronically to Medavie Blue Cross through Pharmacy Claims for Point of Sale (POS) Claims Transmissions. A beneficiary’s eligibility can be verified through the IFHP Secure Provider Web Portal.
  • If not already registered with Medavie, pharmacies will have to register through their vendor, who will register them with Medavie Blue Cross by updating the carrier codes in their system to include Medavie’s code. Pharmacies can also call or contact Medavie in order to receive clear instructions on how to register.
  • As is the case with provincial/territorial formularies, some products will require special approval, in which case pharmacists should follow the regular procedures according to provincial/territorial guidelines.

Interim Federal Health Program Resources

  • The IFHP Information Handbook for Health Professionals from Medavie Blue Cross provides detailed instructions on the IFHP for all health providers.
  • For any additional information on what services are included in basic, supplemental and medication coverage, we invite you to visit the Medavie Blue Cross provider website at

Engaging with Patients

  • It should come as no surprise that as a result of sustained hardship, the overall health and well-being of refugees has deteriorated. Beyond some of the practical aspects of the IFHP, there can be social and cultural challenges associated with working with refugees. This article published in the Canadian Pharmacist Journal in 2013 can provide you with some helpful tips on developing a positive relationship with your refugee clients/patients.
  • The International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) has prepared a range of resources and tools to support pharmacists, including a health advisory document, pictogram software to convey medication instructions and leaflets to facilitate dialogue between pharmacists and migrant patients.