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Cervical smear coordinator bridging the cultural gap around healthcare for Asian communities

Moving to New Zealand as a teenager from her homeland of India was a bit of a culture shock for cervical smear coordinator Meena Narang at first. But living in South Auckland for the past 20 years she’s seen the Indian and the wider South East Asian community grow, as has her passion to support women and their whaanau in health and wellbeing.

“It’s important to take healthcare to the people; to help them understand. I can speak three languages – English, Hindi and Punjabi. It makes it easier for me to reach out to the Indian community and subcontinental Indians. It feels good to be able to explain health to these communities,” Meena says.

“For example, the other day this gentleman called me. His wife received a letter from the Ministry of Health to remind her she was due for her cervical smear. She was 60 plus and in their culture, the men do all the talking. While I was talking to him, I found he wasn’t comfortable, so asked if I could talk to his wife. He said, ‘oh my wife doesn’t speak English’, I said ‘that’s fine, I can speak to her in her language’. When I was speaking with her, she felt comfortable because I could communicate in her own language and I used words that were appropriate for her age.”

A trained nurse for the past 12 years with a Masters in Nursing, Meena works in the Counties Manukau Health cervical screening team, and informs women on contraception and other general healthcare needs.

“I can also prescribe [some medication] in the community, so when a woman comes to see me, I don’t just do their smear [test], I can also do skin and wound checks and offer contraception to them.”

Meena is optimistic about how the healthcare system is working towards better health outcomes for Asian communities.

“I’m starting to see a lot more cultural support for people. They have a better understanding of how the New Zealand healthcare system works which means they’re coming forward to get health checks,” she says.

“If there’s a difficult case and I need extra support, then I know who to contact. There’s a good network here at Counties. There was a woman who just had a baby; she was struggling and had no family support. She wanted someone older to help her because she’s a young mum. I contacted a few of my colleagues and linked her to cultural support. I called her after a week to check in. She was much more comfortable because she was able to get the support she needed.”

Diwali is a special time for Meena and her whaanau. The Hindu celebration is an opportunity to recharge and reflect on the year.

“My family and I celebrate every year. It’s an important celebration for Hindus – it’s our New Year. The Goddess is Lakshmi - the goddess of wealth and prosperity - she comes to your house, so you make sure everything is clean,” she says.

“In the morning we get up early, before sunrise, get dressed in new clothes, seek blessings from elders and spend quality time with family and friends. I live in Manukau with my husband and my parents only live a few streets away from us. My brother also lives in Auckland. We contact family back home and seek their blessings and wish them happy Diwali.”

Due to COVID-19, Diwali celebrations will be a little different this year, but this won’t stop Meena continuing on traditions and celebrating with colleagues.

“All the screening teams come together and we do our own little Diwali celebration. In the wider screening team there are around five Indian staff, so we make some food and bring it in for everyone.”

Diwali is celebrated on 14 November this year. It symbolises victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. Counties Manukau Health will be celebrating Diwali over a week, from 8 to 14 November.

Less than a minute to read Communications Team

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