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Islamic health association reaches out to uninsured

A woman, unemployed and uninsured for six months, saw her blood pressure and blood sugar rise to a dangerous level. But she was unaware anything was wrong until she attended a health screening sponsored by the American Islamic Wellness Association, said Jeena Ahmed PhD'11.

The condition could have killed her if she had not received medical treatment, Ahmed said, but after the screening and subsequent treatment, she is now healthy. 

Every Saturday, the American Islamic Wellness Association staffs the Amal clinic at Clinica Esperanza/Hope Clinic in Providence. The group, whose cofounders include Ahmed, aims to provide health care to the uninsured population of Rhode Island. Currently, Ahmed said more than 140,000 Rhode Island citizens lack health insurance.

The association, which was founded last February, sees about 11 patients every Saturday and has served more than 250 patients since it became operational last May, Ahmed said. She added that a guiding principle underlying the association is Islam's emphasis on helping others. But despite its basis in Islam, the group aims to provide health care to everyone, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or legal immigration status, she said, adding that 95 percent of the association's patients are not Muslim. 

In addition to staffing the Saturday clinic, the association provides free health screenings once a month in community centers, mosques and churches, where the uninsured can have their blood pressure, blood glucose and body mass index checked. Attendees can also seek advice from the physicians present. These screenings are critical for preventative health care, Ahmed said, adding that the association sees around 100 patients during these monthly screenings. Patients are often referred to the Saturday clinic due to findings from the screenings. 

Khalid Alhourani, co-founder and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the Alpert Medical School, said his Muslim faith encourages him to help anyone in need, adding that he believes health care is a basic right, not a privilege. Alhourani also works at Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island as a specialist in pulmonary critical care and sleep medicine. On a personal level, he said volunteering at the association is "very self-satisfying and self-rewarding." He added that the patients he sees through the Amal clinic show more appreciation for medical care than the insured ones he sees at Memorial Hospital. 

Alhourani also said that by being a member of the association, he feels that he is correcting "the misled, stereotyped image of Muslims in America as isolated and different than the rest of the society." Ahmed said the association is "trying to do more interfaith work, such as working with churches and the Jewish community in Rhode Island to build bridges between Muslims in Rhode Island and other faith groups."

Looking ahead, Ahmed said she plans to form collaborations between the association and other nonprofits and establish a lecture series on Islamic views of health care and end of life care. 



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