Refugee staff takes multicultural health to the next level

Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) Multicultural Health program officer for African communities, Abulla Agwa.

Over the last ten years Australia has welcomed more than 200,000 refugees and asylum seekers hoping to start their life over in a peaceful and welcoming environment.

More than half of the newly arrived only speak in their mother tongue, or indicate they understand English ‘not well’, which affects their ability to access high quality healthcare.

So what is the best way to identify and tackle healthcare difficulties that such communities are facing?

  • September 7-13 is Multicultural Health Week. Learn more

Multicultural Health program officer Abulla Agwa had the same start, when his family arrived in Sydney. But having made his way all the way up to becoming Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) community health professional, Abulla knows exactly what challenges need to be addressed.

Now, years later, he is sharing his expertise to improve health literacy in Western Sydney.

Abulla at the graduation ceremony for a computer program he set up, with participant Fawzia Eltigani and Multicultural Health services manager Monika Latanik.

Abulla held high school teaching qualification in Ethiopia, but it was not locally recognised. New Australian resident took it as an opportunity to start over and serve the community.

“We were really happy to settle in Australia and live peacefully. I was so grateful for this one way ticket to a better life. I decided that I want to ‘give back’ and start helping others in need,” Abulla said.

In seven years Abulla learned English and earned a diploma, two bachelor’s degrees in Community Services, finished a Master’s in Social Science and a graduate diploma in Family Mediation. In late 2018 he joined WSLHD Multicultural Health as a program officer for African communities.

He launched a health needs assessment program and identified five health barriers: language, low health literacy, lack of translated resources, lack of understanding of Australian health system (some of the services simply do not exist in their home countries), and long waiting time for doctor’s appointments.  

Abulla helped organise and run Australia’s first African Health Summit at Max Webber Library in Blacktown last year.

Now, in collaboration with TAFE, he runs numerous computer-based health literacy educational courses, language-based literacy program, broadcasts translated health information and regularly meets with African community leaders to discuss the progress and new challenges.

In 2019, Abulla organised “First African Health Summit”, where over 100 participants came together to assess the current situation and outline short- and long term initiatives. Abulla is the first African to receive a “Fair Go” medal, given to an Australian citizen or permanent resident born overseas who has enriched Australia through their community involvement, hard work and willingness to embrace their new home.

Being a second largest refugee intake district (Cumberland local government area has the highest number of asylum seekers in Australia – 1400), WSLHD Multicultural Health has programs assisting refugee and other vulnerable culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) groups in navigating in a new health care system in a different language.

Abulla has received several honours for his community work, including a Pride of Australia Medal.

Health literacy consultancy and educational programs, liaison, online and face-to-face translation into more than 60 languages – all these services are available to those who need it. WSLHD Multicultural Health highly skilled team consists of healthcare professionals of different cultural backgrounds, including refugees. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic reached Australia, Multicultural Health team channelled its resources on broadcasting health information to communities. Read here how the team made sure no one was left behind uninformed about the risks, restrictions and services available for those in need.