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Sam Volpe

'Depressed and anxious': Sunderland man needed help when language barrier meant he didn't understand what cancer he had

A Sunderland man in his 60s was left anxious and depressed as his limited English meant he knew he'd been diagnosed with cancer, but wasn't even sure what kind of cancer he had.

But thanks to the support of a pioneering project at the Sunderland Bangladeshi International Centre (SBIC), he has been supported to vital appointments and helped to understand what he is going through. Somsu Miah - who now knows he has prostate cancer - came to England from Myanmar.

He doesn't speak much English and has no family in this country. But thanks to a project - supported by £200,000 in funding from Macmillan Cancer Support - at the SBIC to increase cancer awareness among ethnic minority groups he has been helped through an incredibly difficult time.

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Speaking at a launch event for the scheme, project lead Nahida Aktar said: "It’s gratifying that as a Macmillan service we’ve been able to help members of the community navigate the healthcare system. One gentleman, Mr Somsu Miah originally from Myanmar and in his late 60s does not speak any English and does not have any family.

"He was diagnosed with cancer and when he came in to speak to us he did not know what type of cancer and was very anxious and depressed about his situation. I’ve since helped with interpreting his correspondence and accompanied him on visits to the hospital.

Dr Hassan Tahir (left) and Nahida Aktar (middle) are leading the £200,000+ project to improve cancer support for ethnic minority groups in Sunderland (Macmillan)

"We have now established he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and he is ready to begin treatment. But it’s more about his mental wellbeing; he has transformed from his previous frightened and depressed state to someone who is ready to tackle his situation, positive about what can happen from here and what he can do."

The scheme sees Nahida and the project co-ordinator Shafia Begum work with minority groups in Sunderland and local health partners to improve access to support and advice around cancer. They work with groups including the South Asian, black African, Middle Eastern, Kurdish, Pakistani and Indian communities with barriers that can appear.

Nahida, who has worked with diverse communities in Sunderland for many years, said: “A recent study found that the Sunderland Bangladesh International Centre has been used by 38 different ethnic minority groups and thanks to the investment from Macmillan we’ve already begun the work of helping specific community members achieve better healthcare outcomes for themselves and their family members.

“We will also be delivering a series of community focused educational sessions about the importance of cancer screening for identifying the signs and symptoms of cancer at an early enough stage giving the individual a far better chance of a positive outcome from treatment."

Shafia said it was also vital to ensure health service providers understood how best to engage people from under-reached groups. She said: "We’ve also established the need to achieve better take up from the men in the community and this will be more effectively addressed by recruiting an additional male support worker from Sunderland community for ethnic minority men to better confide in."

Tina Thompson Partnership Manager at Macmillan Cancer Support said: "“Anecdotally what I am already experiencing speaking to healthcare leaders across the region is a real awareness that there are clear issues that need addressing for ethnic minority groups with cancer care and that what is being achieved in Sunderland is something that could be used as a blueprint for other areas."


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