Asians not well informed about health services

16:00, Jan 03 2013

With more Asians now living in Christchurch than Maori, more needs to be done to ensure they know what health services are available, Partnership Health Canterbury's ethnic liaison officer says.

Wayne Reid said accessing health services in New Zealand was difficult for many Asian people, with language and cultural differences preventing some from seeking help, especially when it came to end-of-life care.

Each culture and religion had different views on death and dying and there was not a blanket Asian culture, he said.

"In China, the body is dressed in white, and many of the close family mourners will wear white. This is why you never see a Chinese bride wearing white; they usually wear red."

Chinese parents did not attend the funeral of their child, which many New Zealanders found difficult to understand, he said.

When it came to palliative care, many Asians questioned why they would want to go into a hospice when their families would usually take care of them.


Christchurch was becoming increasingly multi-cultural and the needs of many of the city's residents were "quite different from what doctors are taught".

"It's a totally different mindset and we've just got to respect that," Reid said.

A University of Canterbury study conducted this year, in collaboration with Partnership Health Canterbury, is believed to be the first to look at the palliative care needs of Asian migrants in New Zealand.

The researchers surveyed about 200 members of Christchurch's South Korean, Chinese and Japanese communities and found most had little understanding of what end-of-life services were available, but many were interested in knowing more.

"We have been working with hospitals and doing some good stuff, like getting palliative information translated into different languages, but this [research] is the first part of a long road," Reid said.

Health sciences researcher Kate Reid, who supervised the university project, said palliative care was a major issue for New Zealand's growing Asian population.

The country's population was expected to increase by almost 20 per cent in the next 15 years and the number of Asians aged 65 and over was expected to be five times higher in 2026 than it was in 2006.

She said most of the study's respondents did not know that palliative and bereavement support services were available in New Zealand, and the research highlighted the need for the Asian community and health professionals to receive more education.

Postgraduate audiology student Bible Lee said elderly Asians could be under-using care services because they did not want to be seen as making a fuss.

Cultural and language differences also played a part.

Most respondents valued being offered written information by health professionals in their native language, she said.

"Hiring even just one or two nurses in hospices, district nursing services and nursing homes who are bilingual or multilingual would help staff and the future service users," she said.


Some Chinese people living in Christchurch could be missing out on important health services because they do not know they are available.

Boris Liu said Chinese people did not like talking about death and he knew little about palliative care services.

"If there are such services, I hope to understand it better," he said. "Whether we'll use it or not depends on what it actually does."

Chinese people tended to focus on keeping a person alive as long as possible, rather than their quality of life.

"Westerners seem to take each day as it comes and try to enjoy it as much as possible, not caring how long they actually have left," he said.

Another Chinese person living in Christchurch, who wanted to remain anonymous, said China and New Zealand were "very different" regarding end-of-life care.

"In China, the doctor would never tell the patient the truth about their illness; they'll only tell their family. At that time, all the family will tell kind lies to the patient, telling them it's not serious, and they'll get better soon if they continue with the treatment," the resident said.

People from different parts of Asia, and those with different religions, had different requirements regarding end-of-life care and more needed to be done to help those living in New Zealand understand what services were available to them.

The Press