COVID-19 crisis calls for collaboration with cultural leaders

Giving multicultural leaders a voice at the ‘crisis table’ would improve COVID-19 communication and health outcomes in linguistically diverse communities, a Monash University-led study shows.

The study recommends establishing a national advisory body to advise authorities on public health messaging in culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.

The proposal is part of a suite of recommendations aimed at improving the dissemination of information and promoting preventative health behaviours in multicultural communities.

The study was co-authored by four researchers from the Monash Sustainable Development Institute and the Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation in collaboration with 12 leaders from Victoria’s Asian, Chinese, South Sudanese, Islamic and broader multicultural communities.

The authors came together in the wake of the ‘second wave’ of coronavirus outbreaks that resulted in the closure of several Melbourne public housing towers, which are home to a large population of people from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

The authors found collaboration with CALD communities was key to ensuring health messages about things like social distancing, testing and hand hygiene were not lost in translation.

“Understanding how to protect the lives of members of CALD communities during a pandemic crisis requires translating knowledge and implementing system-wide, evidence-based interventions about effective mass communication strategies,” says author Professor Helen Skouteris, Deputy Director of the Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation.

“In this process, co-design is key: knowledge of the needs and barriers that face particular communities can only come from meaningful partnerships with those communities. A national advisory board provides a way to effectively embed stakeholder and consumer involvement from the outset.”

The paper, ‘Communicating COVID-19 health information to culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities: the importance of partnership, co-design, and behavioural and implementation science’, found existing health messages were not getting through.

Lead author Abigail Wild, a research fellow with BehaviourWorks Australia at the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, says “trusted messengers” play a pivotal role in communicating public health information to CALD communities.

“Richmond AFL player Bachar Houli, a practising Muslim and community leader, provided a striking example of this when he shared on social media that his mother had been admitted to the ICU with COVID-19. Houli appealed directly to Melbourne’s Muslim community and his message emphasised Muslim values:  the sanctity of life and the importance of family,” she said.

“To understand why CALD communities have been particularly hard-hit by the second wave of the pandemic, community leaders pointed to both structural issues (housing density, insecure work, being ‘essential workers’ unable to work from home) and to issues of ineffective health communication, including a lack of accessible translated materials, difficulty finding up-to-date information and misinformation on many social media channels.”

Other key recommendations include:

  • Empowering community leaders to take the lead on health communication and translation within their communities.
  • Providing community leaders with effective channels for contacting health authorities in order to ask questions and seek support on issues like communicating safe behaviour during religious ceremonies.
  • Collaborating with CALD representatives before major health announcements to identify any problems and workshop solutions, such as using female health workers for door-to-door testing, and supplying culturally appropriate food to migrant families in lockdown.
  • Using ethnic language media, such as ethnic TV and radio and platforms like WeChat, to convey important health messages.