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African Refugees and Health

3 July 2003

African Refugees and Health

Health professionals who arrive in New Zealand as refugees should be assisted to retrain to meet the requirements of New Zealand Medical, Nursing and Midwifery registration Boards.

Refugee Community Health Liaison Officer for the Auckland Regional Public Health Service Adem Bedasso told the Public Health Association conference in Ngaruawahia today that there is also a case giving African trained health professionals limited rights to practise medicine within their own communities and under supervision.

Mr Bedasso says there are more than 20,000 Africans living in New Zealand, but these people speak about 20 different languages and there is a lack of readily available interpretation services. Many African refugees do not understand the health care system in this country and have little understanding about the role or training of New Zealand primary health care workers, he says.

Mr Bedasso, along with community health worker Mahad Warsame and health coordinator Annette Mortensen told the Public Health Association conference in Ngaruawahia that doctors from refugee-backgrounds are currently unable to access the migrant doctor retraining scheme. There are a significant number of African-trained health professionals such as doctors, midwives and nurses living in New Zealand who cannot register with the Medical, Council or the New Zealand Nursing Council and cannot practice, Mr Bedasso says.

"This is a common concern and issues in this matter for all refugees in New Zealand."

However, Mr. Bedasso says the Medical Council has stated that provisions in the Health Practitioners Competence Bill, which is currently before Parliament, will allow more flexibility for registering overseas trained doctors. He believes there is a case for African-trained health professionals to be given a limited scope of practice to work with their own communities, as well as being given help to meet registration board requirements.

Some of these health professionals, who cannot gain registration, have been employed as community workers to support the work of New Zealand health professionals. He says some African migrant health professionals from commonwealth countries and those who achieved the health qualification in New Zealand are practising in their health profession in the public hospitals.

"This shows the retraining actually works and enables them to be productive in contributing to New Zealand economy, social capital and adds the diversity to the health profession in New Zealand."

One option would be scholarships and the provision of transitional programmes to allow refugee health professionals to practise within mainstream health services to improve access and the culturally appropriate provision of care to people from refugee backgrounds, Mr Bedasso says.

Communication barriers between refugees and mainstream health services pose significant problems especially in the mental health area, Mr Bedasso says.

"Few New Zealand health professionals are aware of African attitudes towards mental health, which can result in people being unwilling to marry into families where there has been a diagnosis of mental illness."

Refugee health clinics, staffed by health professionals from diverse background are a common practice in other countries such as the United States, he says.


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