Raising awareness in Pacific communities

Tofa Suafole Gush, the Director of Pacific Health for both Wairarapa and Hutt Valley District Health Boards, has been working to raise awareness of bowel screening amongst Pacific communities.

"It’s important that our community knows that the test is done in the privacy of their home."

Title: Screening stories - Tofa Suafole Gush

[Tofa in her office sitting at her desk, doing work.]

My name is Tofa Suafole Gush. I’m the Director Pacific Health for both Wairarapa and Hutt Valley District Health Boards.

We have been very proactive in getting the education sessions to most of the communities in terms of explaining what this programme is and when it’s coming. And also allowing the community to ask questions of what it is and how it affects them.

[Tofa to camera]

We have tag teamed with the oncologists, the clinicians themselves. But we also utilise our Samoan nurses, our Tongan nurses, our Tokelauan nurses to translate.

So basically we have a presentation that we have presented to the community. Five slides of what it is, and the resources that have been provided from the Ministry, and we translate them as we go from church to church or organisation to organisation. Because the 60 to 74 age group, 90 percent of us are born in the islands, so English is a second language.

Tofa says the test is clean and easy to do, and there are people available to answer any questions.

It’s important that our community knows that the test can be done in the privacy of their home, if they want to ask a question they can either ring their local GP or ring the 0800 number or ask for a Pacific Health Unit in any of the DHBs. And important also that they know that there is support provided for them as they journey into the system.

Pacific people in Hutt Valley and Wairarapa are being urged to participate in the National Bowel Screening Programme test when they’re invited.

These are the first District Health Boards (DHBs) where eligible residents aged from 60 to 74 are being invited to take part in the National Bowel Screening Programme.

Tofa Suafole Gush, the Director of Pacific Health for both Wairarapa and Hutt Valley DHBs, has been working with her team to raise awareness of bowel screening amongst Pacific communities in both districts.

She says people have been relieved to learn that the test is painless, clean and free.

“It’s important that our community knows that the test is done in the privacy of their home. If they want to ask any questions they can talk to their GP, phone the free 0800 number (0800 924 432), or get in touch with their DHB’s Pacific Health Unit.

“It’s also important that people know that there is support available for them as they journey into the health system itself.”

Tofa says talking about the bowel can be challenging for many people, but this is a discussion that it is important and one that people need to have. 

“New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world. More than 3000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and more than 1200 die from the disease.

“There may be no warning signs that you have bowel cancer. Doing the bowel screening test every two years can help detect bowel cancer at an early stage, when there is a much better chance of successful treatment. Doing this test may save your life.”

Tofa says they’ve been doing a lot of work in the lead up to the programme starting in their area, to encourage people to take what can be a life-saving screening test. 

“We’ve been getting information out to communities about what the programme is, when it is starting, and who will be invited to take part. We’ve also been able to answer questions about how it affects them.

“We have found that the best means of engaging with most Pacific people aged 60 to 74 is through the churches. We’ve been able to make presentations at fono, or community meetings, to talk about the bowel screening programme, including at one of the biggest gatherings of the Samoan church that was held in Hutt Valley in February.

“We have tag teamed with  gastroenterologists and clinicians from Primary Care, utilising our Pacific nurses  to translate. So when we give a presentation the nurses translate as we go. This is important as the majority of  60-74 year olds Pacific  are born in the islands, so English is a second language.”

Tofa hopes that raising awareness will lead to a better understanding of this disease within Pacific communities and  good numbers  will take   part in the bowel screening programme.

Page last updated: 21 July 2017