For South Asian Hongkongers, health advice is best delivered by one of their own

Cho Lee WONG, Bernard M.H. LAW
others, The Nethersole School of Nursing, the Chinese University of Hong Kong

Community health workers who speak the same language and understand cultural quirks are best placed to educate minority communities on preventive health care

South Asian ethnic minorities are one of the underprivileged groups in Hong Kong, with limited access to health care services. This makes them more vulnerable to ill health. Despite recent government initiatives to introduce interpreter services to help local South Asians communicate with health professionals, the rate of usage remains low.

Indeed, our studies show that the usage rate of publicly available cancer-screening service among South Asians is significantly lower than that of the general population of Hong Kong, despite the fact that such screening helps prevent cancer effectively. This is of particular concern, considering that South Asians are susceptible to chronic illnesses like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, or cancer.

In light of this, education programmes should be developed to enhance these ethnic groups’ knowledge of disease prevention and available health care services. To this end, the training of community health workers in delivering these programmes would prove beneficial.

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Community health workers are trained to provide health advice and services, acting as a bridge between health professionals and the community. They usually belong to the same ethnic group as the community they work with. Their cultural understanding would help them communicate more effectively to provide appropriate strategies for health promotion. For instance, they can pinpoint the cultural norms and practices known to be detrimental to health and clear up any misconceptions about the causes of certain diseases.

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Our study suggested the feasibility of training local South Asians as community health workers to educate their peers on the importance of cancer screening in cancer prevention. South Asians need to be made aware of how to change their poor health practices and access health care services when in need.

The government should, therefore, invest more resources to train these community health workers, so that they may enhance local South Asians’ knowledge of the available health care services and foster effective health promotion.