Serving Every Child
How UCSF is leading the national effort to care for refugee children
When Zarin Noor, MD, was just a toddler, she became a refugee.
Dr. Noor was 18 months old when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, her home country. She was 3 when her family fled to Germany and applied for asylum in the US. And she was 5 when they settled in Union City, Calif. That was 1983.
Neither of her parents spoke English, so young Zarin learned the language quickly and became the family interpreter. She translated at doctor’s appointments, filled out government forms, and even attended her own parent-teacher conferences. She says it wasn’t a burden; she wanted to help her parents adapt to their new life.
That desire to help has defined Dr. Noor’s career. Today, she is a pediatrician at the Claremont Pediatric Specialty Clinic on our Oakland campus, which provides comprehensive care to underserved East Bay children, 92% of whom live below the poverty line. She is also the director of Claremont’s International Clinic, which cares for local immigrant and refugee patients.
“We see a lot of immigrant and refugee families,” says Dr. Noor. “Half of the children in Alameda County have at least one immigrant parent, and we know that these children require a different approach given the trauma they have endured. An approach grounded in cultural humility. And it takes investment to do that well.”
In this spirit, Dr. Noor and her team established the Center of Excellence for Immigrant Child Health and Wellbeing at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals. Funded entirely by philanthropy, the Center, which Dr. Noor co-directs, works with partners across the country to advocate for the health of immigrant children.
When the Taliban retook the Afghan capital of Kabul in August 2021, the Center of Excellence led the national push to organize culturally appropriate health care for the hundreds of Afghan refugee children arriving in the US, including some who came alone. Today, the Center is poised to respond to the anticipated influx of Ukrainian refugee children fleeing the Russian invasion.
“I want to make sure that these children and families feel like they have a home here and that there are people who support them and understand their trauma and accept them for who they are,” Dr. Noor says. “I know from experience that a little support can go a long way.”