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Amina Sheik Mohamed: Advancing health equity through community-driven initiatives

Amina Sheik Mohamed sitting, looking to camera

If there’s one way to describe Amina Sheik Mohamed, it’s that she is committed to learning and sharing.

Sheik Mohamed is Founding Director of the Refugee Health Unit of the Center for Community Health at UC San Diego’s Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute. She began her career as a translator in health clinics, working with immigrant patients. There she saw how a wide variety of factors contributed to health outcomes, which inspired her to earn a master’s degree in public health with a focus on community health.

 

Sheik Mohamed works with refugees in San Diego and across California—people who have come from their country of origin under challenging circumstances, often due to war. While these communities are often defined by the hardships they’ve experienced, Sheik Mohamed is quick to point out, “Our communities are resilient. As much as we know there are challenges, we also know that they are strong.”

 

As a refugee herself, Sheik Mohamed understands what it’s like to have to adapt to a new culture and a new set of systems that can be extremely difficult to manage. Seeing a need for more thoughtful engagement, she helped launch the Refugee Health Unit at the Center for Community Health to help refugee communities better navigate the many obstacles to receiving quality health care. “Our communities experienced trauma in their countries, escaped, and then had to learn how to have their needs met in a very complicated system,” she acknowledges. “We’re trying to help make that process smoother for them.”

 

Recognizing the untapped wealth of knowledge and expertise within the community, Sheik Mohamed co-founded the San Diego Refugee Communities Coalition to unite several ethnic community-based organizations, facilitating mutual learning and joint efforts to address shared challenges. Launched right before the pandemic, the coalition has organized successful vaccination campaigns, including drive-through clinics and multilingual resources, to ensure community members felt safe and comfortable when getting vaccinated.



To deepen the coalition’s impact, Sheik Mohamed helped form a Community Health Worker program to recruit and deploy individuals from various refugee and immigrant communities to learn more about people’s needs. This peer learning space allows participants to discuss issues related to the social determinants of health, as well as housing, education, and other related issues.

 

The key to it all, says Sheik Mohamed, is an understanding of the complex and interconnected nature of providing services. “No one can do it alone and we need each other. We need a multi-sector focus to serve this community. The only way to succeed it is if we all work together, learn from each other, and share best practices.”

 

If that sounds like a lot of work, Sheik Mohamed is undaunted. “I'm never bored. It’s always challenging to learn something new,” she adds with a smile.

 

Sheik Mohamed is relentlessly focused on collaborating, exchanging information, and then putting that to use to help people. Thanks to her, refugees arriving in San Diego have a valuable place to turn for information, quality health care, and can begin to start a new life.


For more information, see the Leaders in Belonging homepage.

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