Stories from the field – helping migrants to help themselves through health literacy
After working as an assistant nurse and social worker in Sweden for more than 10 years, Noorihe Halimi now teaches recently arrived migrants how to make their way through the intricacies of the state health-care system.
Noorihe works for the Swedish Association for Sexual Education, (Riksförbundet för Sexuell Upplysning (RFSU)) as a peer to help migrants interface with health professionals, to improve their ability to understand and eventually make some of their own decisions regarding health care.
“As an RFSU peer, I am not a health expert, but I am a woman with experience and this is key because I am also a migrant and I can leverage the trust many of these women have in me to help build their health literacy in order for them to make informed decisions,” she said.
To reach the most vulnerable people in society, RFSU is working with people like Noorihe, who they call peers, and who are part of a network of women from migrant backgrounds, who act as an interface between the women and various health-care actors.
Noorihe has lived in Sweden more than 20 years, though she is originally from Afghanistan, and has worked with migrant women of all ages for the local government in Karlstad, a city in central Sweden.
“Often these women did not have a lot of knowledge or education about their own bodies and sometimes that’s because some of these topics – such as birth control or menstruation or female genital mutilation – are difficult to talk about. So, when RFSU asked me if I was interested in helping these women to learn more about health care, I jumped at the chance,” she said.
Videos increase health literacy and spark discussion on sensitive topics
In order to promote health literacy for migrant women, RFSU has produced films in 14 languages, covering 12 themes that include pregnancy, pain during intercourse, sexual desire and pleasure, sexually transmitted infections and other topics.
The purpose of the films is to facilitate the meeting between health-care professionals and patients in order to improve their overall health and their health literacy, according to RFSU.
“With this kind of translated information, women and others watching the movies can understand the information fully and they start to wonder – and then they ask questions, so it’s a starting point for further discussion about health,” said Sonja Ghaderi, a project leader with RFSU.
Indeed, the degree of health literacy among migrants can vary and depends on the situation they find themselves in. Moving to a new country can be disorienting, and language skills, culture and age are additional issues that cannot be ignored.
These kinds of challenges require flexible solutions, according to RFSU.
“I thought about developing a film on menopause for women, but then I thought perhaps we could also have information and a programme for men, so that they can understand women’s issues better and learn how they can help,” Noorihe said.
WHO recognizes that health literacy is instrumental in building peoples’ individual and collective capacity to become informed participants in health decision-making and in enabling real progress towards improving health worldwide.