Minorities suffer poor health care

Vietnamese community highlights the toll of cultural barriers, lack of English and economic disadvantage on ethnic groups' welfare
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The Independent Online
Two new studies of the health and lifestyles of black and ethnic minorities have revealed disquieting differences between these groups and the population as a whole.

The first national survey of behaviour and attitudes published today by the Health Education Authority (HEA) has found that health messages are not getting through.

The second survey, Health, Race and Ethnicity, from the King's Fund, the independent research organisation, echoes the theme. Chris Smaje, the report's author, said: "Minority ethnic groups generally experience poorer quality contact with the health service than the white population. Caribbean people are more likely than whites to be committed compulsorily to psychiatric care and this occurs more often through the police."

The HEA survey, Black and Minority Ethnic Groups in England, a £330,000 investigation of Afro-Caribbean, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in England, found the health of these groups is being significantly damaged by cultural barriers and illiteracy.

At the same time, ethnic groups tended to suffer economic disadvantage, which increased their risks of ill health.

The report found high levels of illiteracy, and less understanding than in the general population of the significance of smoking, diet and weight on health.

Dr Michael Chan, director of the NHS Ethnic Health Unit, said: "The survey provides the most complete and up-to-date comparative data on the health of black and south-asian groups in England." He said it should help in targeting information about primaryhealth care and cancer screening.

The survey found that health information had not been received or was not accepted.

A quarter of Indians and two in five Bangladeshis said they had not come across any health education at all. There was little interest in information about alcohol, drugs or contraception.

While only 15 per cent ofwomen generally have never had a cervical smear, 30 per cent of Indian women, 46 per cent of Pakistani women and 60 per cent of Bangladeshi women have never been screened for signs of cervical cancer.

A third of Indian men who smoked said they did not know what effect it might have on their future health.

Both surveys are set against a background of greater incidence of diseases in the groups. The death rate among South Asians is 40 per cent higher and the risk of stroke in Afro-Caribbeans is double that of the general population.