Serving as a bridge for migrant workers
Bangkok Post Saturday July 05, 2008
Serving as a bridge for migrant workers
ADISORN KERDMONGKOL & CHOLCHAYA SUWANPANMANI
Cha, 27, is employed at Bangjak hospital as a community health worker.
His daily task involves translating for migrant workers who cannot speak Thai, to ensure they get the service and help they need.
Cha migrated to Thailand 13 years ago from Burma, where the political and economic situation continues to force many to leave their country for Thailand in search of better opportunities.
After many years of working in metal shops and a steel factory, Cha became a community health worker with Bangjak hospital on July 1, after completing an intensive training course in basic healthcare.
As a community health worker, Cha assists migrant workers at the hospital and learns about their health problems.
Outside the workplace, Cha visits migrant communities in the neighbourhood and provides important health education.
“Many migrant workers don’t understand Thai. I’m happy to help them communicate,” says Cha.
“I also provide information on disease prevention and reproductive healthcare to everyone.”
With migration now a permanent fixture of globalised economies, including Thailand which is both a sending and receiving country, we cannot shy away from the responsibility of healthcare for all.
Thailand is a multi-ethnic nation, including approximately 1.3 million migrant workers (621,437 documented, and about 700,000 undocumented) who contribute to its economy and development.
These migrant workers are nationals of neighbouring countries who, like Cha, migrated to Thailand for a variety of compelling reasons.
When migrants stay healthy and have equal access to healthcare services, everyone in the country benefits. Health is an integral part of human security.
The Ministry of Public Health, with the goal of health security for Thai society and universal healthcare, has adopted a “migrant health strategy” aimed at addressing migrant healthcare barriers, such as language.
The five components of the migrant health strategy are:
1. Organise health services to be easily accessible, incorporate disease prevention and strengthen human resources to provide services;
2. Make available health insurance to minimise the risks associated with lack of access and some of the insurance fees can support disease prevention efforts;
3. Encourage the participation of migrants and communities in maintaining their health and well-being;
4. Develop information systems of the migrant population since accurate data will assist in the planning of healthcare and proactive disease prevention strategies;
5. Establish primary health centres for migrants appropriate to the local context. Such centres can function as community-based links in the provision of services and disease prevention.
In the course of implementing the migrant health strategy, the language barrier figured prominently as the most significant obstacle to achieving universal healthcare.
Migrants are often unable to clearly explain symptoms or communicate with doctors and nurses, thereby making accurate diagnosis difficult. A lack of health information in languages they understand can prove to have detrimental health consequences. These are some of the most common scenarios befalling migrant workers in Thailand.
In such situations, community health workers – like Cha at Bangjak hospital – are the most valuable resources.
The Health Ministry and international agencies working with migrants have trained community health workers to serve as a bridge between health providers and migrant communities to address language and other barriers.
Community health workers are more than mere translators. These men and women also work in the communities to convey life-saving information on how to take care of one’s health and prevent communicable diseases.
Without community health workers, prevention and treatment of disease may simply not reach those most in need.
Cha explains how he feels about his role as community health worker at Bangjak hospital. “Sometimes I am called to the ER unit if only to help push a wheelchair because they are short of staff. I am always glad to offer a hand.”
The authors are with the Migrant Working Group, a coalition of more than 20 NGOs and UN agencies working together to protect the rights and improve the quality of life for migrant workers in Thailand.