Legislative Council: Wednesday, June 28, 2023


Health in My Language

The Hon. I. PNEVMATIKOS (15:29): Earlier this month, I had the good fortune to attend the Health in My Language showcase. The Health in My Language program is a collaboration between the commonwealth government and the Multicultural Centre for Women's Health. It aims to deliver vital health information in people's first language, with the help of partner organisations in each state and territory. In South Australia the Australian Red Cross was selected to deliver this health education program. The initiative was originally born out of the need to ensure that migrant and refugee communities received accurate evidence-based information about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Accessing and understanding accurate information about health can be difficult at the best of times, but for people whose first language is not English it often comes with additional challenges. This is because it is generally not tailored to their specific needs or readily available in languages other than English. The implementation of this program in May 2022 meant that people could access information about COVID-19 in their own language from trusted professional healthcare educators. This was vital not only in addressing vaccine hesitancy but also in empowering multicultural communities to make informed decisions about their own health.

I was glad to hear that the program in South Australia had been further expanded to include multilingual health education sessions around safe relationships, sexual health, mental health and many more. At the showcase, health educators Aza, Samar, Maggie and Mehwish described their experiences in delivering these sessions. They spoke of cultural factors that impacted on women's willingness to openly discuss certain aspects of health, such as contraception or cervical and breast cancer.

Similarly, one educator explained that it was particularly difficult to encourage men from multicultural communities to talk about their mental health. Topics like these can sometimes be considered too taboo or private to discuss with other people, which could result in misinformation and delays in accessing care. By delivering multilingual, culturally appropriate health education sessions, health educators are able to break through language, social and cultural barriers to deliver life-saving health information. People felt more comfortable, confident and more able to learn and ask questions in a supportive and non-judgemental environment.

In the year the program has been running, our state's health educators have delivered 153 sessions and reached 1,575 community members. Importantly, these sessions serve as a platform for migrant communities to break free from isolation and foster meaningful connections. Although humanitarian visa entrants, asylum seekers and migrant workers have access to Medicare, there are several barriers that impact their access to care. Language, financial constraints, unfamiliarity with Australian healthcare services, stigma, transport issues and limited health literacy are just a few of these.

In Australia, we believe that every person has the right to health care. Therefore, it is our duty to eliminate these barriers and ensure that everyone can meaningfully access health education and care. The Health in My Language program is a significant step towards this. On a final note, I would like to commend all those involved in the Health in My Language program: Dulce Diaz-Llanos, project coordinator; Sue McNamara, State Lead for SA Red Cross; and the health educators.