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Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong

Hong Kong must not neglect ethnic minorities’ health care needs

Padmore Amoah says the government’s promotion of public health and primary health care should include cultural sensitivity training to ensure Hong Kong’s growing ethnic minority population is informed and feels welcome at public facilities

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 2:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 7:15pm

According to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s recent policy address, the government is committed to “actively promoting primary health care, [and] enhancing public health regulation”. While this sounds promising, it is crucial to remind ourselves of how challenging this is to achieve, considering Hong Kong’s diversity. The ethnic minority population in the city grew from 5 per cent in 2006 to 8 per cent in 2016, making it more critical than ever to understand how, and if, ethnic minorities fit into social services, to keep attracting and retaining their labour.

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Existing anti-discrimination legislation and support programmes for ethnic minorities are welcome, but the question remains how best to integrate these people into specific service sectors, such as health care. We cannot take for granted that efforts such as availability of health care facilities and financial relief offer a holistic solution, so the government’s position – to “step up efforts to promote individual and community involvement, enhance coordination among various medical and social sectors” – is admirable. It hopes to achieve this through encouraging “the public to take precautionary measures against diseases, [and] enhance their capability in self‑care and home care”.

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For ethnic minorities, a critical question is how to reach out to them with “acceptable” services and strategies that can draw their attention to this policy agenda. Acceptability in this case relates to sociocultural heritage, so the health care system needs to be culturally sensitive. It should aim to meet minorities’ expectations, their understanding of the process of care and the meaning they ascribe to different health conditions. Recognising these attributes will help them seek out formal health services and be involved in public health interventions. After all, an inability or unwillingness to take health precautions could affect others.

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Residents and patients must feel that their unique values, beliefs and behaviour are considered in health care services. So, the city should go beyond language translation to consider other aspects of ethnic minorities’ social health. The onus lies with the Food and Health Bureau, in conjunction with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and Social Welfare Department, to ensure health professionals, as well as heath care facilities, are fully in tune with cultural beliefs and values through civic engagement and symposiums under the proposed medical-social collaboration model.

Padmore A. Amoah is a research assistant professor in the division of graduate studies, Asia-Pacific Institute of Ageing Studies, Lingnan University