Information from health authorities has been vital since the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic in March last year, however communication barriers pose difficulty for some culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) people in WA.
Australia is a multicultural community home to an overseas-born population of just under 30 per cent according to ABS figures from 2020 – more than other countries in the Anglosphere like the UK, the US and Canada.
West Australians across the state have tuned in to Mark McGowan’s press conferences for much of the past two weeks, providing new doses of information every day.
Translated information about WA’s three-day ANZAC weekend lockdown in multiple languages. Supplied: Office of Multicultural Interests.
Ethnic Communities Council WA executive officer Vivienne Pillay says over the past year, multicultural people within Australia have struggled with the complex health information about COVID-19.
She was involved in a recent forum between ECCWA and WA Health Consumers’ Council, which identified the key issues facing migrant communities.
A key issue identified was complex information coming from multiple different sources, which echoes findings in the Australian Settlement Council’s report on communicating with migrant and refugee communities during COVID-19.
ECCWA’s process following new health announcements involves sending key information to multicultural community leaders and service providers, who disseminate messages to the people they represent.
Mrs Pillay’s organisation is praising the WA government’s Office of Multicultural Interests (OMI) for providing COVID information in eight languages. She says the office puts out timely releases in multiple languages following important health announcements, which is a vital source of health information disseminated by community leaders.
She says the office works with feedback from community groups like ECCWA to optimise their foreign language services about COVID, and while she praises the state government’s work, there is still some confusion among CaLD communities.
“A perfect example given to us during one of our focus groups is when we said social distancing is critically important,” she says.
“Some community organisations saw that as social distancing from another community.”
While it’s not known how many of the 32 per cent of overseas-born West Australians don’t speak or read English, Ms Pillay is worried some people aren’t coming forward to get tested for the virus due to difficulty navigating the testing clinics.
She says people who don’t speak the language can’t answer the necessary questions without an advocate to help them through the process.
“The feedback from we’ve been getting from communities is a lot of people have found themselves in that situation and chosen not to come forward because it’s too difficult,” she says.
“That’s where we worry there could be an unfortunate incident.”
“All the signage is in one language – English. If you don’t speak English, where do you go?”
Satish Nair is the Indian Society of WA’s assistant secretary and has been working with students and temporary residents from India since last year.
“Educating, always, in any society. Telling people, the right thing to do is important,” he says.
“What the government tries to convey, it does reach most of the people.”
Mrs Pillay says the best way forward is for authorities and community groups to keep working together to inform all people living in Australia and prevent the spread of COVID.
“The way the world is working at the moment, we really want to look at ourselves as being one community,” she says.