The Hellenic Medical Society of Australia (HMSA) Board’s Executive recently met with the Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos and with MP for the Seat of Oakleigh, Steve Dimopoulos, to discuss issues around the health of Greek Australians and the wider Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) population.

Ms Mikakos indicated her interest in health promotion in CALD communities and in the Aboriginal population. The HMSA informed her of the Society’s achievements in health promotion and education. Specifically 17 medical educational events, public educational events and radio events have been organised by the HMSA in the last 24 months alone. Most of these have been in Greek. Both the Minister and the HMSA acknowledged that there is a need for more language appropriate health information in Greek which is appropriate for the educational attainment of the vast majority of first generation Greek Australians. The Minister will personally pursue and facilitate further development in this important area.

The HMSA indicated that the poor health literacy of migrants leads to poorer heath outcomes. Older Greek Australians have higher rates of musculoskeletal disorders, diabetes, and vascular/heart diseases. There is also a higher rate of depression amongst the elderly. Despite the multitude of services available many elderly Greek Australians remain isolated and lonely.

The issue of long waiting lists for public outpatient and inpatient services was raised and Ms Mikakos indicated that a new database which will soon become available to General Practitioners and to other doctors to assist with identifying and accessing hospitals with shorter waiting lists.

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The social and peer support nature of the HMSA was also discussed and Ms Mikakos stressed the importance of professionals supporting one another in order to bolster mental health. It is on the government’s agenda to address the important issue of support of doctors as it already has addressed with Ambulance Victoria and with the nursing profession.

The recently enacted legislation on Voluntary Assisted Dying was discussed and it was acknowledged that CALD populations have a lack of understanding of the new law.

A medical day conference organised by the HMSA on a bioethical issue was discussed with the keynote speaker to be the newly elected Archbishop Makarios of Australia. The HMSA’s recent meeting with the Archbishop has led to a fruitful cooperation between the HMSA and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the conference is one example of furthering discussion and education amongst medical professionals.

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In addition a public forum in Greek on an ethical issue of concern, eg organ transplantation, was discussed with the Minister. She stated that CALD groups traditionally have low levels of organ donation although she noted that Victoria has the highest overall donation rate in the country.

Specific issues pertaining to the elderly were also discussed such as elder abuse, exploitation by children and grandchildren and the lack of general understanding of legal issues such as advance care plans, will making, enduring Powers of Attorney, and guardianship orders. These are all important issues in the context of the ageing population and the growing numbers of people with dementia.

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Barriers to accessing acute mental health services by CALD groups was also discussed and Minister Mikakos expressed her hope that findings of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System will lead to improvements in this area.

Ms Mikakos expressed her keenness for Government to collaborate with the HMSA in areas of public health education and empowerment on ethically and culturally sensitive issues. She accepted the invitation to be keynote speaker at a recent public dementia forum delivered in Greek by the HMSA in collaboration with Fronditha Care and Oakleigh Grammar. This was a hugely successful event attracting over 250 people and highlighted the need for quality health education in Greek. Leading up to and following the forum, the HMSA was involved in a concerted Greek language media education program during September – World Alzheimer’s Month – together with Fronditha Care.