Bridging Community Gaps for Improved Healthcare Access: Mr Dhiraj Gurung

Mr Dhiraj Gurung (MPH Part-time - Population & Global Health, Class of 2013) recognises that achieving optimal health is challenged by cultural hurdles across populations. Hence, instead of diagnosing diseases in clinics, he has been out prescribing health literacy through education. Currently Connector-in-Chief of Health Connection, a social enterprise he co-founded, he is breaking language and cultural barriers between healthcare organisations and Ethnic Minorities (EMs) in Hong Kong.

Photo: Dhiraj Gurung

The educator is no stranger to working with people and “connecting” them with useful knowledge. While training as a medical doctor in Tianjin Medical University, he would join volunteer programmes, one of which was a trip to his hometown Nepal where he helped doctors in rural mountains to use wireless telemedicine to connect with city doctors. “While there, I saw people getting sick and dying from very preventable diseases because they were not aware of basic things like proper hand-washing,” he said. “Since then, I would spend my free time teaching the children in the communities such basic practices.”

After graduating in 2009, Mr Gurung brought his passion in education to secondary school, where he taught health management and social care subjects to senior students and provided support to non-Chinese heritage students. Here, he also met a colleague who encouraged him to pursue higher studies in public health.

“I decided to take the Master of Public Health programme at The Chinese University of Hong Kong part-time,” he said. He recalls how his first-ever group interview session in CUHK made him excited about the university life ahead. “I was wowed by the professors and supervisors, and was immediately pulled in by the dynamic atmosphere inside the room. I was so excited at the thought of connecting with more people.”

Besides the inspiring faculty, Mr Gurung appreciates how the curriculum presents topics that tackle real-life scenarios. Such relevance was important to him who, while studying, was also working closely with people as a teacher and as a medical translator and interpreter in the field. In addition, as a health educator in the community.

“Working in the hospitals, I saw firsthand the language and cultural gaps between minority groups and Hong Kong’s healthcare institutions and professionals. It strongly motivated me to make public health more accessible and equitable to them,” he said. Keen to promote health equity as part of the EMs himself, Mr Gurung added, “These groups cannot access the healthcare services because they either do not know or do not understand them. Also, their traditions approach medicine differently, so there are cultural nuances we have to acknowledge.”

He recognised similar barriers while completing his capstone project on childhood obesity in South Asian groups in Hong Kong. “The disease is commonplace across populations but these groups are having more difficulty addressing it because they are not aware of nutrition and nutrition labels , for example,” he shared.

The doctor shares that apart from broadening his healthcare views, his study in CUHK expanded his network, and also improved how he approached his work. Accustomed to organising things on his own, he learned to collaborate more with others to effect the public health changes that he wants to see—an attitude that would later spark the beginnings of Health Connection.

The translator also recalls applying public health principles taught in class when he encountered materials in Nepali published by the Department of Health. “I appreciated how they were making these medical materials for different minorities available, but I thought the translations in the native languages could be improved,” he recalled. “In the university, I learned that changing policies has to start somewhere; So, I started writing (and sharing at LEGCO) to them hoping to make all the medical jargon understandable to EMs,” he said. (video: Speaking at LEGCO)

Eager to make more impact, Mr Gurung eventually started Health Connection with a team in 2015. With enhanced appreciation for synergistic outcomes following his CUHK graduation in 2013, he began using the platform to reach out to different healthcare and social organisations and connect them with EMs through on-site community health promotion events, cultural awareness and exchange programmes.

From his residence in the Belgium, the Connector-in-Chief today continues to provide consultations to groups in Hong Kong who want to work with EMs. He also supervises MPH students who have chosen to get involved in the EMs’ health space for their practicum work.

“As the first one in my family to go to university and do these things for the community, I feel deeply about bridging these access gaps. By connecting people and asking ‘How can we work together?’, we are empowering everyone towards achieving good health. I look forward to sharing this mission with more students and aspiring public health professionals in Hong Kong,” he concluded.