By Georges Budagu Makoko, Publisher prayers and hopes are that the new year will bring good health, prosperity, and protection to everyone in Maine

-Georges Budagu Makoko

As we reflect on the end of 2023 and the beginning of 2024, my prayers and hopes are that the new year will bring good health, prosperity, and protection to everyone in Maine – and that it will be a better year than 2023, which was marked by the October 25 violent rampage in Lewiston that resulted in the deaths of 18 people in just a few hours. The massacre devastated our state, further wounded the whole nation, and left behind horrible traces of trauma that will remain with people for many years to come.

Also, different immigrant communities experienced incredible loss this past year. Some of the losses were due to tragic accidents, or sudden and unexpected illnesses. I spoke recently with Bakhita Saabino, the South Sudanese community president, who expressed her deepest sadness over three consecutive losses of key leaders of her community, including the recent tragic death of Lado Ladoka, an important leader who did so much for the Maine community at large. During these difficult times, we all need to support one another, Saabino said. Mutual community support is all that can help us each endure the pain of such devastating losses.

I also visited with Dr. Jovin Bayingana, who was a doctor in Rwanda, and now works in healthcare in Maine. He remarked on the recent sudden deaths of different members of the immigrant community here in Maine, saying that some deaths, which could appear sudden, might be the result of a long-term, underlying medical condition that went unnoticed due to lack of awareness, or of appropriate access to health screening and prevention.

Dr. Bayingana said that healthcare illiteracy and inadequate access to care are serious issues. For example, many immigrant community members do not know that people can be predisposed to certain diseases by genetics. They also do not know that risks can be exacerbated by environmental or lifestyle factors. Further, many immigrants have no access to their historical family medical backgrounds.

Immigrants need help accessing health screening services so they can be educated in preventative measures, but at present, adult asylum seekers over age 21 – and not pregnant – are not eligible for MaineCare, and can only access urgent care. Others may not know where to get health screenings, or how to pay for them.

My hope is that more healthcare organizations will reach out and engage the immigrant community, helping people understand the importance of regularly seeking medical attention, and that this year the Legislature will extend MaineCare access to adult asylum seekers. In life there are so many things that we have no control over – but one thing we can all do is help others take care of their health. Otherwise, we can expect to experience more preventable losses in the years to come.

May 2024 bring peace, stability, and good health to all, and may we develop an ever-stronger mutual support system in Maine as the pillar that will help support us all through dark, tragic times.