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Interpreting good health

Helping Pacific patients and their families overcome language barriers and gain at least a grasp of their respective medical condition is vital to improve general health and wellbeing according to interpreters Vaelua Faauma Lamb and Ikamafana Tameifuna.

The pair, who work with Counties Manukau Health Interpreting and Translation Service (CMHITS) in South Auckland, perform the challenging yet fulfilling task of helping Pacific people to improve their health and wellbeing.

“Our role is to bridge the communication gap between patients, and health professionals,” experienced interpreter Ikamafana says.

CMHITS is free, provided by the Government to help people achieve optimum health.

The latest issue of Pacific Peoples Health (PPH) looks at the important role of interpreters within the health system, and how people can access them.

PPH profiles Ikamafana from Tonga and Vaelua from Samoa, who agree there is more to interpretation that just knowing English and another language.

Cultural knowledge and intuition are hugely important in their role – explaining what things mean to patients within the Counties Manukau region, in their respective cultures, and helping them to overcome any other language barriers.

These patients may struggle to speak or comprehend the English language, or some speak English, but need help understanding medical terminologies at appointments with doctors and other health professionals.

Understanding what doctors say, and their medical jargon goes a long way for the interpreters when they relay the message back to the patient in layman’s terms.

Culture plays a role as sometimes things are done differently in other countries, and some languages do not have an equivalent translation in other languages.

Interpreters soon learn if patients don’t understand what they are being told throughout the process of the pre-interview, actual consultation and de-briefing.

Family can present the biggest challenge to interpreters with some family members taking offence at their offer of help.

They want to do the job themselves but run the risk of relaying a different message than the intended one.

Ikamafana and Vaelua offer some valuable advice to patients receiving healthcare including:

• Always ask questions of your doctor or interpreter if you don’t understand what the medicine is for, or what the side effects are

• Take medication as prescribed. If you are taking alternatives from the islands or Chinese herbs, you need to tell the doctor

• Forget your pride - do not let it get in the way of seeing a doctor, or using the interpreting service, as most issues can be resolved easily through consultation.


• Phone the CMDHB Health Interpreting and Translation Service on 09 2760014


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