Improving access to healthcare for CALD communities

Image shows a woman holding a baby to her chest.
Image: Birth for Humankind

WHILE Melbourne’s primary health care system provides patients with quality services, these services can be difficult to access for those from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, a report has found.

A key finding of the 2021 report, Bridging the Health Gap, released by the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria (ECCV), is that the Western medical model is not culturally responsive to the primary care needs of Melbourne’s diverse community.

The use of interpreters is inconsistent and underutilised, and a lack of translated materials or culturally trained advisors, makes it difficult for people from culturally diverse backgrounds to navigate the health care system.

ECCV chairperson, Mr Eddie Micallef, said the growing health gap disadvantages those from CALD backgrounds to access and receive the same level of care as others.

“Primary health care is the gateway into the health system and needs to be more culturally responsive and inclusive,” Mr Micallef said.

One organisation helping to improve the accessibility of healthcare for those from culturally diverse backgrounds is Birth for Humankind, who aim to reduce maternal inequality by providing free non-clinical support and education resources to women and birthing people experiencing social or financial disadvantage.

Many of these women are from culturally or linguistically diverse backgrounds, including new migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Birth for Humankind provide free doula support and childbirth education resources to help achieve equitable maternal health and wellbeing for all. Image: Birth for Humankind

Programs manager, Ms Natalie Kondzic, said it is critical to ensure access to high quality health care for everyone to avoid generational inequality. 

“The reason we focus at the point of pregnancy and childbirth is because we know that if you can get things right at that stage, it can be really transformational both for the mother and the child in terms of the long term impact throughout the lifetime,” Ms Kondzic said.

One of their key programs helping to provide women and birthing people with culturally sensitive care is their bicultural doula training program.

This 18-week course is open to bilingual people from diverse cultural backgrounds and equips them with the knowledge and skills to support patients in navigating the Australian maternal health system throughout pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period.

“What we found is that for the bicultural women that we train, through their cultural competency and … drawing on some of their own experiences, they can often build rapport and make that connection with every woman that they’re working with,” Ms Kondzic said.

“And in some cases, we do match women with a doula who speaks their language, and in that case, there can be lots of benefits of having the same language and they may have a shared culture.”

Birth for Humankind’s bicultural doula training helps participants to embed culturally sensitive perspectives into practice. Image: Birth for Humankind

A key recommendation in Bridging the Health Gap to improve equitable health care for those from diverse cultural backgrounds include improving the cultural responsiveness of primary care services.

This involves seeking feedback from patients of CALD backgrounds on the design and delivery of services as well as increasing the participation of CALD people in the primary care workforce to create a sector more representative of the communities it serves.

The report also recommends improving the usability of the primary care system for CALD patients and promoting more consistent use of interpreters in healthcare.

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Jessica Roberts

Jessica Roberts is a Masters of Journalism and International Relations student at Monash University. She is interested in advocating for women’s empowerment, amplifying the voices of marginalised communities and creating a society more inclusive and welcoming of minority groups. Jessica is passionate about writing stories that help make a difference.

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