Vancouver, Canada

Promoting Healthy Living In Multicultural Communities: Diversity Health Fair

AMSSA (Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies of BC)

November 18, 2008

Bringing together health providers and new immigrants for better access to services

Jenipher arrived to Vancouver, British Columbia from a small town in Kenya eleven years ago. Despite the availability of Canada’s universal and free health care system, there were many occasions in which she felt lost when trying to navigate through that system.

Language barriers, a lack of information on how the system actually works, nervousness and confusion about practical access meant that Jenipher, like many new immigrants, had great difficulty actually obtaining the health care resources and services that she needed.

Diversity Health Fair

A 2005 study by Statistics Canada found that while immigrants generally arrive with better health than the Canadian born, as time passes this “healthy immigrant effect” tends to diminish. In part these health problems may be due to the stress of immigration itself which involves finding suitable employment and establishing a new social support network. However, the ability of the newcomer to effectively identify and access preventative care also plays a role in this decline.

To overcome barriers to accessing health care and provide new immigrants with the information they need to take charge of their health and that of their families, AMSSA (Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies) developed and launched its first Diversity Health Fair in Vancouver in 2005.

The Diversity Health Fair is a free community event that brings together community health organizations, health care professionals, volunteers and members of diverse ethnic communities to provide health resource information to new immigrants in fun and easy to access ways. The focus of the fair is accessible information. As a result, all exhibitors are required to have interactive health screenings or displays at their booth. All printed information must be available in English and at least two of the selected fair languages: Chinese, French, Korean, Persian, Punjabi, Spanish and Vietnamese. Exhibitors are strongly encouraged to also have booth representatives that can speak one of the selected fair languages and interpreters are available to assist fair participants.

The main goal of the diversity health fairs is to address newcomers’ health information needs by bringing health service providers and new immigrant communities together in a collaborative effort through which both stakeholders obtain mutual benefits.

The event mixes information and preventative care. The program usually includes a multicultural opening ceremony, health screenings, fitness demonstrations, a children activity area and multicultural performances.

Other activities include healthy cooking demonstrations where traditional recipes are revised to be lower in sugar, fat and salt; a “Health Services in Vancouver” workshop provides step by step instructions on how to access basic health services which has been presented in Mandarin, Farsi and Spanish; and a health screening area allows visitors to have their blood pressure and blood sugar tested, learn about accessing dental services and have a fitness assessment.


Over the last eight years, the Vancouver health fair has become the largest one-day health fair in Canada with 3,500 people in attendance. Admittance to the health fair is free and exhibitors includes well-established agencies such as the Canadian Diabetes Association, BC Cancer Agency, Healthy Living Programs, as well as over forty-five other organizations promoting their services in multiple languages.

AMSSA, the organizer of the Vancouver Diversity health fair and supports similar health fairs in different regions of British Columbia. It is a provincial association that strengthens its 70+ agencies which serve immigrants to build culturally inclusive communities, with the knowledge, resources and support they need to fulfill their mandates.

Since 2005, a total of 40 diversity health fairs have been held in the following communities in British Columbia: Vancouver, Abbotsford, Campbell River, Kamloops, Kelowna, Maple Ridge, Nanaimo, Prince George, Surrey, Vernon, Victoria and Terrace.

Revised: July 2012

Making it Work for You:

  • Find out whether local services in your community are accessible to newcomers. Are services easy to identify and use? Is language support offered? Is material presented in culturally appropriate ways? If not, find out what professional or government bodies might be interested in helping to address the situation?
  • Promoting core services, such as health services, is like marketing other consumer services. Think about the needs and preferences of newcomers when designing services targeted to this population and use the best channels available to promote access and successful service delivery.