Re-Health - Slovenia News: "The role of cultural mediators in accessing asylum seekers to health services"

The role of cultural mediators in accessing asylum seekers to health services

Authors: Iva Perhavec and Ana Jereb, International Organization for Migration

While the role of translators and interpreters in the field of migrant work is recognized as crucial for mutual understanding in the provision of various services, cultural mediation in our area is a newer concept and covers a significantly broader range of support provided by the cultural mediator to both the user and the provider of a particular service. A cultural mediator is a professionally qualified person who can provide support in various fields such as social care, health and education. In health institutions, the cultural mediator represents the bridge between medical professionals and users - patients, by establishing a link between people with different socio-cultural and linguistic backgrounds. It facilitates and facilitates communication between patients and health professionals in order to provide patient rights, improve access to adequate health care and quality care by health professionals.

Health services offered to migrants regardless of their legal and formal status in a particular country, require a culturally sensitive approach that must take into account any beliefs, habits, transient experiences, customs and traditional beliefs of the patient. Thus, the cultural mediator is not only a language interpreter, but also interpreters of cultural significance and helps to overcome such differences. In addition, it is important that the cultural mediator is appropriately qualified to derive from a similar linguistic and cultural environment as a user and that he/she always respects the secrecy and protection of the patient's personal data. The relationship between the cultural mediator and the user is therefore based on the establishment of trust, with the fundamental importance not only of the knowledge of the language, but also of the cultural specificities of the particular environment.

From July 2016 to July 2017, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), with the financial support of the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) - CHAFEA, implemented the regional project "Re-Health - Support to Member States under Specific Migratory Pressure in their response to health related challenges." In Slovenia, the project was implemented with the support of line ministries for health and internal affairs and in cooperation with the National Institute of Public Health. The aim of the project was to support the EU Member States facing increased income of migrants (Greece, Croatia, Italy and Slovenia) in identifying and addressing their health problems. Within the framework of the project, the National Institute of Public Health in Slovenia employed three cultural mediators in health care, who provided support in communication between medical personnel and applicants for international protection residing in asylum homes in Arabic and Farsi languages.

The experience gained in the Re-health project shows that asylum seekers who have established a confidential relationship with a cultural mediator have more and more self-confidently turned to the aid of medical staff. The presence of a cultural mediator enabled them to overcome both linguistic and cultural barriers, in some cases they also discussed problems and issues of a very intimate nature. Through the Re-Health project, some asylum seekers were better informed about the possibility of certain health services available in an asylum home, such as psychiatric help, which they began using in the presence of a cultural mediator. Thus, by providing appropriate explanations, the cultural mediator can also contribute to the elimination of the stigma in the use of such health services.

At the end of the Re-Health pilot project, the International Organization for Migration and the National Institute of Public Health in Ljubljana on May 29, 2017 organized a round table on the issue of health care for migrants and the role of cultural mediators. As part of the round table, the participants highlighted the need to include asylum seekers in the national health system through a change in the legislative basis that would allow them not only to access emergency medical care, but also primary and secondary care. It is also a key finding of the project that a larger number of qualified cultural mediators should be included in the network of support for asylum seekers and migrants with different legal and formal statuses, for example, the need for such support is increasingly reflected by refugees. For this purpose, IOM also upgrades its work in the field of cultural mediation as part of the continuation of the Re-Heath² project, which will be implemented in the period up to June 2018.

Original article in Slovenian here.