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We need culturally accessible COVID-19 information: The blame game helps no one

By:
Navneet Chance (@navneet.chana)

By now, many of us have learned to adapt to the new circumstances of working from home, participating in virtual meetings, wearing masks and social distancing.

There has been quite a lot of information about COVID-19 and ways to stay safe and healthy during this time, including a variety of messages about rules and suggested safety practices. 

Despite this abundance of information and guidelines, there has been at times a lack of culturally accessible information for minority  populations. 

This is an issue of concern because South Asian communities in Metro Vancouver and in the Greater Toronto area are being blamed for the recent rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in both respective areas.

Story framing and comments on multiple media outlets have been placing blame on the South Asian community. In Vancouver, news outlets showed Indian students out on Halloween night, but the camera did not show the others in the large crowds who were also breaking COVID protocols. 

Last week we all celebrated Diwali from our homes, and Gurdwara’s urged people to stay at home but allowed some while still taking precautions. Multiple local Indian businesses also adapted to innovative ways so that we could still celebrate from our home, and so much more that was done by our community to comply with public safety guidelines. 

Unfortunately, all the extra measures these communities during the pandemic are not being recognized by the same people trying to shame us. 

In a recent interview with Ismaila Alfa on Metro Morning (CBC Radio), Jaskaran Singh Sandhu, Consultant at Crestview Strategy and Former Executive Director of the World Sikh Organization, discusses his “frustration with the systemic lack of investment in cultural minorities” in terms of healthcare and other institutions. 

According to Jaskaran, just relaying the information is not enough -- we need more. The information being disseminated among communities is not being adequately understood or adopted due to language barriers or other factors.

Sandhu says, “how do you expect folks that read translated versions and expect that’s enough, it’s not.” 

As Sandhu puts it, we need “grassroots-level community engagement that leads to change.” When information is not provided in their strongest language, communities may be missing important guidance. 

It is already a known fact that racialized groups in Canada are disproportionately affected in many ways, and COVID-19 is no exception. This is disheartening because COVID has only exacerbated inequities for many marginalized communities.

Vancouver and Toronto are two of Canada’s most culturally dense cities in which South Asians and African Americans make up over 60% of their populations. To contextualize the inequities faced by BIPOC, preliminary data by individual researchers suggest BIPOC make up 83% of reported cases while only making up half of the city’s population, just in Toronto. 

Who makes up this 83%?: Frontline and essential workers that do not have the privilege of working from home. 

If we want to flatten the curve again, if we want to protect our communities, we need to be credited for the work we are doing, and we need active engagement between public health agencies and our communities. 

How can they support marginalized communities to have better access to information? 

By having “inclusive decision-making models” and stakeholders from the community that incorporate enhanced communication and increased social support within our communities.

Amid the pandemic, guidelines that were being relayed to Gurdwaras lacked context, and many were left to “figure it out on their own.” Sandhu provided a better solution to how Gurdwaras, the epitome for Sikh communities, and public health agencies should be working together to do outreach work.  

Where Gurdwaras act as “community hubs,” they are mainly volunteer and community driven, thus, can aid in the dissemination of information that is culturally and linguistically appropriate to those hard to reach and that invites community-engaged solutions with culture as a connecting space. 

Working with the community at the forefront means working with community leaders who can relay information in such a way that is actually useful. These agencies need to initiate a collective communication for mitigation so that messages have cultural meanings for those with whom they share common cultural values. 

As the pandemic continues to unfold, it is the job of public health agencies to provide information to communities about understanding the risk and ways to flatten the curve and stop the spread of the virus. Because all communities, everywhere, need culturally respectful guidance and support during this time. 

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