COMMUNICATION AROUND COVID-19 transmission and the importance of vaccinations has been critical to controlling the outbreak that gripped NSW in 2021.
However, for communities with language and cultural barriers, there are unique challenges to accessing healthcare services, including limited information, a lack of awareness of the services available, and eligibility to access them.
Recognising the need to address these barriers, Dr Sohair Ali organised a health outreach service to assist the South Sudanese community in Sydney during the COVID outbreak in 2021.
Despite an already busy schedule working for an afterhours health service, Dr Ali and other Sudanese colleagues volunteered their services to educate and vaccinate members of the community.
It started with a WhatsApp group chat with other Sudanese doctors who were worried about the growing numbers of COVID-19 cases in South Western Sydney. The group gathered names of families in need of help and reached out to them.
She said that speaking the same language and understanding the culture was invaluable in educating the community about COVID-safe measures and vaccinations.
“We know Arabic, and we know how to deal with and talk to our people from Sudan – speaking our mother tongue plays an important role in the communication between them and the information that they are given. We make the information about COVID-19 very simple. We explain what COVID-19 is, the importance of staying safe from COVID, the current stay-at-home orders and restrictions, and to get the vaccine.”
After witnessing the care that the group of doctors was delivering to families affected by COVID, more people in the community gradually began to trust the doctors, allowing them to have daily follow-ups regarding symptoms and calling an ambulance if necessary.
Dr Ali, along with the Sudanese Australian Medical Professional Association (SAMPA) and other community groups, also made sure families in isolation had access to groceries and other needs.
In addition, the doctors contacted pharmacies to distribute masks, sanitiser, and medication where it was needed.
“We began like this, and slowly saw families recover from the ICU. After they left, we made more WhatsApp groups for daily follow-ups. We also asked them to record messages about the impacts of COVID-19, so that we could spread it around as a warning to the Sudanese people so they can know its dangers firsthand,” she said.
Following this COVID care outreach, Dr Ali began a vaccination campaign.
“Because of the contact between us they believed in us, and all forms of distrust and reluctance was removed. The idea of vaccination was very distant from them, but because of our work we were able to get them to take part in the vaccination process. We did well – we went from zero to hundreds getting vaccinated with their first dose in a few weeks.”
Dr Ali is looking to organise webinars in Arabic that focus on mental health and vaccination information. This would complement the videos that both Dr Ali and SAMPA have done in conjunction with NSW Multicultural Health in Arabic about stay-at-home orders, self-isolation, and vaccination. She is urging other CALD colleagues to join the effort.