Symposium for the Centre for Asian and Ethnic Minority Health Research and Evaluation.
On 2 September, the Centre for Asian and Ethnic Minority Health Research and Evaluation (CAHRE) held their 8th National Symposium at the University of Auckland’s School of Population Health. It was the first time the symposium had been held since the pandemic began in 2020. This year’s theme was ‘Beyond the Healthy Migrant Effect’.
“The Asian community in New Zealand has been ghosted,” said one attendee.
The Healthy Migrant Effect describes the phenomenon whereby migrants arrive in a new country with better health than the dominant population group. Migrant healthiness is usually a result of strict immigration screening processes that prevent people with less than optimal health from arriving in Aotearoa, New Zealand (or other countries). Over time, migrant populations’ health tends to deteriorate to levels equal to or worse than that of the dominant population.
The conference’s keynote lecture summarised research soon to be published in the Lancet, a highly regarded medical journal, about whether the Healthy Migrant Effect persists in 21st-Century Aotearoa. Associate Professors Rachel Simon-Kumar and Roshini Peiris-John argued that this phenomenon does not manifest itself across all Asian communities in the same way. A migrant’s flexible resources include things like their wealth, generation status, the extent they can pass as white, and, therefore, how much racism they experience. These flexible resources all impact health outcomes.
CAHRE’s symposium attracted health professionals, researchers, and stakeholders from government, non-government, and community organisations. They participated in two themed sessions: ‘Thriving at Crossroads: Research conducted by and with ethnic minority youth’ and ‘Telehealth and Cultural Safety’. There were talks on abortion and sex selection among Asian communities in Aotearoa and the experiences of LGBTQIA+ South Asians in Aotearoa. Talk topics also included applying indigenous African philosophies to migrant health research in Aotearoa and resettlement experiences of refugees.
The symposium concluded with a panel discussion on the health system’s restructuring. It highlighted the opportunity Aotearoa has to deliver more inclusive health care. By 2038, StatsNZ predicts that Asians will comprise 22% of New Zealand’s population. This proportion will be even higher in Auckland because, in 2018, Asians already comprised 28.2% of the population. The panellists discussed what needs to change to avoid increasing inequities as the Asian population grows. Some of these discussion points included the lack of services and cultural competence in healthcare regarding Asian understandings of health and the failure to recognise ‘Asian’ as a highly heterogeneous group.
Dr. Renee Liang, a panel member, pointed out a particularly telling statement on Te Whatu Ora, Health New Zealand’s website. The statement says, “We’re transforming the health system to better ensure greater access, experience and outcomes for those traditionally not well served by the system—Māori, Pasifika, and Disabled People.” This sparked a few intense but important contributions from audience members. They questioned why no politicians attended the event, explained how they were sick of being invisibilised, and highlighted that people who identify as pan-Asian get even less recognition. The perception that all Asian migrants are healthy prevents government and policy-makers from having Asian health on their agendas.
I talked to Nikki Singh, the Sypomsium’s volunteer coordinator and a PhD candidate in the school of population health, for her perspective of the event. The highlight of the event for Nikki was its celebration of the work being done for and by Asian communities in Aotearoa. She said that so often, working in this area can feel isolating. However, when 130 like-minded people from all different backgrounds and organisations come together and make connections, it’s impossible not to feel proud to be Asian.
To further understand what CAHRE is, Nikki kindly explained that its primary function is to connect people to Asian health research. It disseminates the research of its members to other universities, organisations, and anyone interested in the space. It’s easy to stay up to date with what is happening at CAHRE and the latest research by signing up for the Centre’s emailing list.
There are many other ways, apart from signing up to CAHRE, students can help promote the well-being of Asian communities in Aotearoa. For example, Nikki recommends finding out if your faculty has an Asian-centred focus (like an Arts version of CAHRE). See if there are any Asian academics within your department/s, and then reach out to them to see if they can connect you with other networks. If no groups exist, don’t be afraid to start one yourself, Nikki said. It doesn’t matter how small the group is, but making a regular commitment to meet with people with a common goal is how communities start.
She also suggested following several pages on social media including the Multiethnic Young Leaders Community, Authenticity Aotearoa, Asian NZ Foundation, Shakti, YWCA, and Asian Family Services. Most importantly, Nikki says that if you want to make a difference, “be authentic and show up because you want to serve your community”. If you’re not authentic, people will see through your mahi.
One thing that stuck with Nikki, and I’m sure many other event attendees, was from Professor Terryann Clark’s and Associate Professor Roshini Peiris-John’s opening address entitled ‘Te Tiriti and Asian and Ethnic Minority Health’. Professor Clark said, “Marginalisation should not be a competition.” It’s important that going forward, ethnic minority health issues are reframed so that they focus on the strength and capacities of communities and the health system at large to overcome inequities. Inequity should not be how we define identity, and communities should not have to fight for the same small pot of resources. Instead, the focus should be on dismantling systems of power so that everyone has access to the resources they need.
Nikki, CAHRE, and undoubtedly many readers “look forward to the day Asians have a seat at every table”, where their names are there not by coincidence but to avoid the application of assumptions and the ghosting of whole populations.
PHOTOS BY CAHRE