When Bangladesh-born Shelly Nahar and her son moved to Rockhampton three years ago, she was still learning to speak English.
Even small talk was daunting, let alone explaining problems to a health professional.
- A report has found CALD people in regional areas are at a higher risk of preventable diseases, complications, increased hospitalisation, and increased mortality
- The Breaking the Barriers of Health Communication’s lead researcher says regional CALD communities are “deprived” of resources
- Findings from the pilot project have been presented to the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt
“When I feel any problems and when I feel uncomfortable, of course, I’ll ask my husband first,” Ms Nahar said.
“Then I will ask [other family or friends], and sometimes I [search] the internet.”
Ms Nahar is among the 10 per cent of Australia’s population born in countries with a non-English-speaking background.
A Central Queensland Multicultural Association (CQMA) pilot project, Breaking the Barriers of Health Communication, found English proficiency was among many barriers to health care facing culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people.
It found CALD people in regional areas were at a higher risk of preventable diseases, complications, increased hospitalisation and increased mortality due to low health literacy.
‘English is our second language’
Nepalese woman Dev Shrestha said the weeks following the birth of her son, Evan, were “a really scary time”.
“I’m a new mum, so I have got a few issues with concern to my baby,” she said.
The Rockhampton mum said it took three trips to the emergency department and countless GP appointments for the six-month-old to be diagnosed with eczema, but they were still waiting to see a specialist.
“I felt living in a regional area was a bit of a disadvantage,” she said.
While Ms Srestha’s English proficiency is good, she said she’d seen others from non-English-speaking backgrounds struggle.
“I think the majority of the CALD community also have similar kinds of issues, especially those living in regional areas.”
‘This population is deprived’
The pilot project’s leader, Neeta Ferdous, completed her Masters and PhD on the health of CALD communities in Australia.
Recommendations from the project have been given to federal Health Minister Greg Hunt on how to break down barriers and where resources are needed.
“Regional, rural and remote CALD people are not getting those sorts of facilities or resources and we need to know where the problem is and [find] the solution.”
The study used data collected from 40 healthcare consumers and 15 public and private health professionals.
CQUniversity and Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service helped facilitate the research.
“In terms of health literacy, Rockhampton’s CALD population is more disadvantaged than the broader Queensland population, as well as the broader Australia-wide born overseas population,” the report stated.
“These results are significant because they suggest that being both regionally based and CALD compounds disadvantage in terms of healthcare access and engagement.”
Resources under-utilised or not available
Rockhampton exercise physiologist Samuel Warrener said he had minimal cultural training at university.
“We just try and look after them as best we can with the knowledge and pre-existing experience that we have, and asking them about themselves,” he said.
“It’s really important that we do get to know their background so that we know where they’re coming from and that way, we can make them as comfortable as we can when they come in and see us.
Pilot project officer Evie Perrins said professionals had not been using available resources, including translators or communication boards, which was contributing to communication difficulties.
“Health professionals within this region can choose to undertake cultural competency training … but it’s not mandatory, whereas comparatively, Indigenous cultural competency training is mandatory,” she said.
Ms Perrins said social support systems in metropolitan areas should be expanded across Queensland.
“Something like a multicultural liaison officer should be introduced to help bridge the cultural and linguistic gap between healthcare consumers and healthcare professionals [to assist individuals] navigating the healthcare system and speaking with their health professional,” she said.
Further research needed
The pilot project looked at people from 15 different countries, so Dr Ferdous said its scope was limited.
“There’s more research needed into exactly which cultures are going to suffer heightened disadvantage comparatively,” she said.
Researchers said the release of the report was timely considering COVID and its impact on CALD communities.
Central Queensland Multicultural Association president Dawn Hay said the organisation already helped vulnerable people, but much more needed to be done.
“It would be disappointing if it is not recognised at Commonwealth and state level in the healthcare systems that this is a growing concern, it’s not minor,” she said.
A federal Department of Health spokesman said CQMA submitted its final progress report in early April and the government was considering the recommendations.