Spotlight on Western Sydney’s work to support new communities

Jon is a new resident from Sudan. Photo: SBS News

Sudanese resident Jon Wall has praised Western Sydney Local Health District’s (WSLHD) health support group in helping him better understand the Australian health system.

The support group is just one initiative rolled out as part of a wider health literacy project designed to support the needs of new and emerging communities in western Sydney.

Jon told SBS News this week that navigating the health system when he arrived in Australia was difficult.

“I can’t say it was easy,” Jon said.

“The health system is better in Australia (than in Sudan) but it’s not easy.”

Jon now attends weekly sessions at the Mount Druitt Ethnic Communities Agency to better understand how the Australian health system can help him and his family.

Improving health literacy and addressing the way the western Sydney community understands information about their health is a key priority.

WSLHD Health Literacy Hub manager Dana Mouwad has been leading the district’s health literacy work.

“In western Sydney we face greater communication challenges and lower levels of health literacy are common among socially and economically disadvantaged communities,” Dana said.

“In our region more than 50 per cent were born overseas and we receive and settle a lot of migrant, refugee and asylum-seeking populations.”  

Dana said the introduction of a Health Literacy Hub is helping to assist WSLHD staff to communicate more effectively with patients and the community.

“The Health Literacy Hub is an innovation between the University of Sydney and WSLHD,” Dana said.

“The Hub has been developed to support and capacity-build healthcare staff across primary and secondary settings. We have already developed tools, resources and approaches to assist staff.

“We’re also developing an online portal that will help staff develop easy-to-read patient information in a ‘health-literate’ format’. This involves translation support at an early stage so that cultural and linguistic appropriateness can be determined.

“Another initiative we are working on is a research project to investigate how we can help culturally and linguistically diverse communities who struggle with reading and writing in their own language. Such communities include people who have had no access to formal education in their country of origin.”

This week is Multicultural Health Week and NSW Health’s chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant has stressed the importance of the 2019: health Literacy of new and emerging communities.

“Health literacy is recognised as a critical issue for health services. Health literacy refers to how people understand information about health and health care; how they apply that information to their lives; how they use it to make decisions and act on that information”, Dr Chant said.

New and emerging communities are defined as communities which are:

  • Recently settled compared with more established culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities;
  • Smaller in number of residents but with significant increase in the past 5 to 10 years;
  • Lacking sufficient infrastructure and resources compared with more established CALD communities;
  • Experiencing significant barriers in accessing health care and/or poorer health outcomes; and
  • Isolated in their geographical area.

Examples of new and emerging language groups across the state include communities who speak Bangla, Kurdish Kurmanji, Mongolian, Nepali, Tamil, Tibetan and Urdu.

Lisa Woodland, Director, NSW Multicultural Health Communication Service (MHCS), urged all health organisations to routinely include consumers, families and carers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds when developing, implementing and evaluating programs, projects and resources.

“This Multicultural Health Week, we ask health professionals working with new and emerging communities to read our new factsheets, tailored for each Local Health District. We also ask communities to access the new video, entitled “Assessing healthcare in Australia”, in over 20 languages with accompanying translated health information,” Lisa said.  

These resources are available to download for free on