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Human right awards for local health and community initiative

August 23 2011

Human right awards for local health and community initiatives

A series of local initiatives to break down language barriers has helped many newly settled peoples from refugee and migrant backgrounds to stay healthier this year.

And tonight, Partnership Health Canterbury PHO’s Migrant and Refugee programmes also achieve national recognition, winning a Human Rights Commission Diversity Award.

Partnership Health’s activities have included the availability of face-to-face interpreting services for enrolled patients and general practice staff, cooking classes to help new migrants to understand the hidden dangers in unfamiliar food and thus avoid diabetes, and ensuring that public health and earthquake information is available in a wide range of languages - just some of the initiatives being recognised by the Commission with tonight’s award.

Some of the projects – like the six-week cooking course that teaches recent migrants about unfamiliar western food and some of its hidden dangers, as well as healthy alternatives - aim to stem the increasing rates of chronic disease that occur with the acculturation process.

“Due to the lack of English, people start buying things like cooking oil on price, not quality,” says Partnership Health Canterbury CEO Jane Cartwright.

“So we help them to make better decisions by teaching them to read food labels. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, labels are always laid out exactly the same way. It’s very easy to teach somebody the word ‘fat’, for example. Once you know what to look for oil can then be bought on quality. We teach people to cook either their own food or simple western food.”

Other initiatives to make health information more accessible to people whose first language isn’t English have been in the pipelines for some time, but have become more urgent since the earthquakes.

“In the event of an emergency, disaster or under enormous stress, most people will revert back to their native tongue – no matter how well they speak English. So it was vital that we had information in peoples’ own language, helping them to understand what was happening, what they needed to do, and where to get help,” she says.

Mrs Cartwright says that understanding cultural differences can also lead to some fast and easy success, which is vital if people are to get help early in the piece, before health conditions deteriorate.

“Often we’re dealing with populations that respond really well just on receiving information. You ask somebody from a western culture to do something, and often they’ll say ‘why’? Whereas many of the people we’re dealing with will say ‘how’? It’s not hard to make a difference once you get it right.”

Not long after the first of the big quakes, Partnership Health and a range of other involved community and health organisations united to form the Community Language Information Network Group (CLING). The efforts of this group, which included translation services for Civil Defence community briefings and the development of guidelines for communicating with and providing earthquake related translation services to ethnically and linguistically diverse groups, are also being recognised by the Commission.


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