According to the 2016 population by-census, ethnic minorities (not including foreign domestic helpers) account for 3.6 percent of Hong Kong’s population, with their numbers totaling over 260,000.
Among them, people of South Asian origin have reached approximately 85,000.
Though the majority of these ethnic minorities are permanent residents of Hong Kong, many of them have very limited access to health information and primary healthcare services provided by the government due to language barriers and cultural differences.
As a result, the city’s ethnic minorities often face bigger health risks and are more predisposed to chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases than the local Chinese population.
I strongly urge the government to address this issue promptly.
A recent study by the Nethersole School of Nursing of the Chinese University of Hong Kong indicates that the participation rate of local ethnic minorities in some of the free health screening programs provided by the Department of Health such as the colorectal and cervical cancer screening programs has been relatively low
The main reason, the study says, is that the information published by government agencies such as the health department is often available in Chinese and English only, but generally not in languages that can be read by ethnic minorities such as Urdu and Punjabi.
Only 35 percent of the city’s ethnic minorities are able to read Chinese, hence their low participation rate.
Although the Hospital Authority is currently providing language interpretation services for ethnic minorities in public hospitals and clinics, these services have to be booked one day or even several weeks in advance.
Most accident and emergency departments in our public hospitals don’t have an interpreter on duty, which means ethnic minority patients would have a lot of difficulty communicating with doctors and nurses in emergency cases, which could result in delayed treatment or even wrong diagnosis.
Given that, I suggest that the Hospital Authority provide onsite interpreters in all of our public hospitals.
Public health carers should also be trained in taking care of patients from different ethnic groups and handling their drug administration.
Apart from decent access to healthcare services, healthy diet and lifestyle are also very important when it comes to maintaining good health.
Since spicy, greasy, deep-fried and high-sugar dishes are common in the South Asian cuisine, they can have negative effects on one’s health in the long run.
The 2016/17 annual report published by the South Asian Health Support Programme indicates that among the participants of its 50 public health promotion events, 26.6 percent were found to have high blood pressure, 4.5 percent were diagnosed with diabetes, 78.5 percent were overweight and 31 percent had abnormal cervical smear test results.
The report also says that the numbers of ethnic minority patients suffering from chronic diseases are continually on the rise.
The situation is further compounded by the fact that many ethnic minority women often prefer female to male doctors or insist on being accompanied by their husbands when going to clinics due to cultural or religious reasons. This reduces the chances of early discovery of any illnesses or providing timely medical treatment.
To address the issue, I believe the government should reach out to members of ethnic minority groups at the community level through local health centers and non-profit organizations so as to raise their awareness about the importance of having regular medical check-ups.
Ethnic minorities in our city, like local Chinese, are also facing the problem of population aging.
And since many ethnic minority seniors don’t speak English, they have even less access to information on public healthcare services than their younger family members.
As such, the government should also take into account the special cultural needs of ethnic minority seniors as well as caregivers when planning for elderly care and nursing home services in the future.
Last but not least, according to a 2012 study, ethnic minority teens are more susceptible to drug abuse than Chinese and English-speaking youths in the city.
Worse, many of those suffering from drug addiction don’t know where to seek professional help and support.
I strongly urge the authorities to step up efforts at educating ethnic minority teenagers about the danger of substance abuse.
Meanwhile, the government should also facilitate closer partnership among teachers, social workers and psychiatric nurses in combating drug abuse among young ethnic minorities.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 29
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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