Healthcare service stays muted for deaf people

By Le Nga   October 9, 2019 | 11:26 pm PT
In Vietnam, hospital processes are loaded against deaf and speech-impaired people.
A mother communicates with her deaf son as she takes him to a hospital in Hanoi for a health check. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Thanh.

A mother communicates with her deaf son as she takes him to a hospital in Hanoi for a health check. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Thanh.

After waiting in line for hours to meet a gynaecologist at a hospital in Hanoi, two hearing- and speech-impaired women finally met the doctor.

The three used hand signs to try and communicate with each other.

The meeting ended within a minute since the doctor and patients could not understand each other and there was no interpreter around.

"Hearing and speech-impaired people usually face a great disadvantage when getting health checks at hospitals," Lan Anh, one of the patients, later told VnExpress through an interpreter.

"The doctor asked us about our reproductive health, and we could not provide any information because we don’t have any knowledge in that field. When the doctor gives us a prescription, we don’t understand our condition, how to take the medicine, or how the treatment will go."

Deaf people have the same need for medical services as everyone else but in most cases hospitals do not provide them with any support, she said.

Many deaf people in Vietnam are illiterate and thus cannot communicate with doctors by exchanging notes.

In most cases, hospital staff call out patients' names, and deaf people are at an obvious disadvantage.

At some places deaf patients are provided with an interpreter who is however not allowed to enter doctors’ consulting rooms.

VnExpress learned about a recent incident in which a speech- and hearing-impaired married couple, who asked not to be named, visited a hospital for a prenatal check for the wife.

The doctor did not allow the husband into the room.

Suddenly she ran out in panic after realizing that the doctor was about to perform an abortion on her.

Vu Huong Giang, an interpreter at the Hanoi Association of Sign language Interpreters, which provides services to deaf people, said she was once hired by a childless couple in Hanoi to inquire why they could not have children.

The sad story came to light when Giang visited the wife’s family.

Her parents had her uterus removed before she got married fearing she could not take care of children. Since the family was not rich, it could not afford to hire help either.

Giang said:"I can never forget the scene when that woman learned about her ovary. She kept screaming, ‘Why didn't you tell me?'"

Vietnam has around 1.3 million deaf people.

"They all have difficulties accessing healthcare services, especially reproductive health services, due to communication barriers," Nguyen Duc Vinh, head of the Ministry of Health’s maternal and children health department, said recently.

"This situation makes deaf people vulnerable to isolation, abuse and discrimination."

Vietnam has just 10 qualified sign language interpreters, said Tran Xuan Nhi, chairman of the non-governmental organization Vietnam Association for Education for All.

Dr Phan Thi Thu Nga of the outpatient department at the National Hospital of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Hanoi said almost all hospitals have a social activity office to support those in difficult situations, and deaf people could seek help from the staff there.

Anh said, "What we need is specific guidance and respect when getting healthcare services."

She also wanted hospitals to have exclusive rooms for deaf people so that doctors know they require special services.

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