Most migrant women 'can't afford' doctors

·3-min read

Women who are migrants or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander struggle to afford health care in Australia, new research shows.

More than 70 per cent of migrant women and more than half of Indigenous women say they can't afford to see a doctor, compared with 44 per cent of all women.

A survey of 14,000 participants by non-profit organisation Jean Hailes for Women's Health also found the marginalised groups suffered higher rates of financial decline during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly half of migrant and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women said their financial situation declined since the pandemic began, compared with 32 per cent of all women.

Language barriers were identified as the main reason for health inequity, with more than half of those from non-English-speaking backgrounds unable to find health information in their own language, compared with 29 per cent of all women.

"The results from the National Women's Health Survey show that there is much more work to be done when it comes to improving outcomes for women from non-English-speaking backgrounds in Australia," said Costa Vasili, chief executive of Ethnolink, which specialises in translation services.

Meanwhile, a widespread decline in mental health since COVID-19 began was identified among all women, including younger women and members of the LGBTQI community.

Zimbabwean-born Danai Chanakira is among the 55 per cent of migrant women whose mental health worsened during the pandemic.

The 21-year-old Canberra psychology student struggled with isolation during lockdown.

"The biggest sign that my mental health was deteriorating was when I felt very unmotivated to do everyday tasks such as work and school," she said.

Ms Chanakira said accessing health services was difficult.

"There are a lot of barriers in place such as language, culture, money and lack of knowledge on existing resources," she said.

Dr Prerna Varma, research fellow at the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health at Monash University in Melbourne, said income disparity is also a contributing factor.

"We have seen studies so far that have indicated that migrant women have lost income during the pandemic or because of child-care responsibilities, or the fact that they have to do odd jobs so they're essential workers and still not earning enough," Dr Varma said.

Mary Ann Geronimo, from the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Council of Australia, said systemic barriers can be particularly stifling for migrant women.

"We know moving to Australia can impact heavily on migrant women's resilience as they are confronted by isolation and unfamiliar systemic barriers that result in poorer health outcomes," she said.

The findings come as more general practitioners limit access to bulk-billing.

Last month, the NSW and Victorian state governments announced they would open extra urgent-care clinics amid a shortfall in bulk-billing GPs.

In the lead-up to the May federal election, Anthony Albanese committed to trial 50 bulk-billed urgent-care clinics across the country, including 13 in NSW.

A spokesperson for health minister Mark Butler said the federal government is investing nearly $1 billion into improving Medicare.

"The government is also working with CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) community leaders to develop a communications campaign tailored to their communities to help inform them about how to access health care and information on preventive health," the spokesperson said.