Lasting Impact Delivered by OSC - Story of Health In Action
Hong Kong is one of the cities with the best healthcare system in the world. Everyone has full access to public medical assistance, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity… But is this truly the case, when language is your biggest barrier? Shweta found out the disappointing answer during her internship at Health in Action (HIA).
“It started with stomach pain for which she went to the government hospital several times. But due to language barriers, there was a communication gap between her and the doctors. Every time she went, the doctors prescribed Panadol or some other painkiller.”
Shweta told the story about Alia, a 35-year old Pakistani woman who had been living in Hong Kong for several years. Alia struggled to get adequate support and an answer to her health problem from Hong Kong’s healthcare system.
“After approximately two years, she (Alia) fell terribly ill and was finally admitted into the hospital. The doctors performed a few tests, after which she was diagnosed with cancer. By then the cancer had already progressed to the later stages and she had to undergo surgery. Even at this stage, Alia couldn’t get an appointment due to the long waiting lines, and she had to fly back to Pakistan to get her surgery done.” Unfortunately Alia died within months after having done the surgery.
Alia is one of the many stories that illustrates the challenges that the ethnic minority population face in accessing healthcare facilities in Hong Kong. With an already burdened public healthcare system, doctors do not have much time to interact with patients. For the ethnic minority population, this issue amplifies as doctors cannot fully understand their needs and symptoms, thus providing limited treatment options to them.
HIA is solving the communication problem and improving healthcare access for ethnic minority patients with the grant from Operation Santa Claus in 2016. HIA researches on their needs and employs ethnic minority volunteers, and get medical professionals such as nurses and doctors to work with medical interpreters.
“We stay with the ethnic minority patients until they recover, and provide medical subsidies for emergency cases.” said Shweta. Though HIA could not save Alia, the charity is working hard to prevent the incident from happening again. “We facilitate healthcare access and help many others (ethnic minorities) who are still struggling just to find someone who can understand them.”
In the last several years, HIA has seen several cases in which these patients felt more comfortable with doctors when assisted by volunteers or interpreters; these situations then facilitated proper diagnosis.