Community leaders play 'vital role' during COVID-19

The 'Ask an Expert' series with Department of Communities and Justice's Sam Borka, CORE Community Services Community Development and Policy Officer Marie Saliba and Basim Shamaon from NAVITAS English.
The 'Ask an Expert' series with Department of Communities and Justice's Sam Borka, CORE Community Services Community Development and Policy Officer Marie Saliba and Basim Shamaon from NAVITAS English.

During the Monday COVID-19 update at Greenway Park in West Hoxton, Premier Gladys Berejiklian recognised the community leaders who had helped break the stigma of getting tested.

She spoke of the doctors, religious leaders and community cultural leaders who have installed "confidence in the system" as the state passed the 2 million COVID-19 test milestone.

In Fairfield - where 71 percent of people speak a language other than English at home and more than 50 percent of the community born overseas - community leaders have been instrumental in ensuring correct messaging on COVID-19 reaches multicultural communities.

A recent study from Settlement Services International (SSI) revealed community leaders were a "vital asset and ambassadors" and were stepping up in keeping diverse communities COVID-19 safe and aware.

The Western Sydney Community Pulse Report on COVID-19 surveyed 810 clients from SSI's Humanitarian Settlement Program residing in Fairfield, Liverpool and Campbelltown LGAs with data suggesting respondents are engaging in all the recommended safety measures including using sanitisers, washing their hands and practising social/physical distancing. Respondents were also taking active measures to ensure their safety and the safety of the community at large.

SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said: "SSI has stayed connected to community leaders and can see evidence that they have taken the initiative and are exercising leadership to make sure their communities are COVID-19 safe."

The research also involved involved consultations and virtual roundtables with 25 community leaders including representatives from CORE Community Services.

The Ask an Expert schedule.

The Ask an Expert schedule.

CORE Community Services Community Development and Policy Officer Marie Saliba said an "integrated" approach is needed from government, non-government organisations, media, community leaders and influencers to help multicultural communities receive the right information.

"New and emerging communities really value receiving information in their language from those established relationships which they trust, and this has been an effective mode of communicating," she said.

"A lot of COVID-19 messaging has taken place via settlement caseworkers spending additional time on the phone, or community leaders posting videos on social media, or English teachers relaying important updates to their students."

CORE has joined forces with Navitas English and the NSW Department of Communities and Justice to co-host a weekly series of webinars called 'Ask an Expert' to help newly arrived and communities navigate COVID-19.

The seven zoom sessions provides participants with access to accurate and up-to-date information to better inform them about the pandemic. The next session is on September 3 and will cover welfare support options.

The first session centred on COVID-19 testing and hygiene, with a short presentation from NSW Refugee Health talking about the best ways to correctly use masks and how to dispose of them. Participants were also reminded that no matter their visa status they can get tested for free.

Department of Communities and Justice's Sam Borka said they were aware some groups, such as older people and single parents, are more isolated and may lack access to correct information.

"This is at the forefront of our mind, when we share information during the sessions, and as hosts we are making a point within each session to ask the participants to pass this information to those isolated community members," he said.

Africa Health Australia chairman Dr Vincent Ogu. Picture: Simon Bennett

Africa Health Australia chairman Dr Vincent Ogu. Picture: Simon Bennett

Africa Health Australia chairman Dr Vincent Ogu said the way information is passed on has changed.

The former chair of the Western Sydney MRC in Liverpool said many communities have their own communication networks they use.

"Egroups, WhatsApp, email, Facebook - they are the main forms of communication we rely on. Community leaders also make calls to members who are hard to reach. It's to easy to assume people use television or mainstream media ," he said.

"We want to demystify any perception coronavirus does not effect Africans for example or young people. We want to make sure our tight-knit African community are fully aware of the the information and the best ways to avoid being effected."

Last week the Africa Health Australia (AHA) hosted its second African Community Health Diary - an online community forum that provided an opportunity for constructive dialogue and information exchange between government and grassroots organisations.

Dr Ogu said one of the ideas coming from the forum was up-skilling trusted community champions and leaning on faith-based and youth networks to distribute COVID-19 messaging.

"There is a need for an organisation like Africa Health Australia to start building and nurturing these networks and to provide a greater wealth of resources and guidelines for the community to feel supported," he said

Premier Gladys Berejiklian speaking at Greenway Park on Monday. Picture: Chris Lane

Premier Gladys Berejiklian speaking at Greenway Park on Monday. Picture: Chris Lane

A NSW Government spokeswoman said they have "extensively invested" in supporting culturally and linguistically diverse communities during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the correct information is being passed on.

"The government has invested in essential translation and interpreting services, into more than 50 languages, to support non-English language speaking communities," the spokeswoman said.

"We continue to widely disseminate essential and evolving public health messages including testing, self-isolation, social distancing and personal hygiene information and COVID-Safety Plans.

"Since the beginning of the pandemic, the NSW government has actively engaged with diverse communities through regular forums with religious and community leaders and the multicultural, migrant and settlement sectors.

"The government has also ensured the NSW public information campaign 'Help Us Save Lives' is reaching diverse audiences through multicultural media across all channels including print, radio, digital and social media.

"It has also provided $600,000 in immediate grants to help 120 multicultural community organisations and their grassroots pandemic response projects, in local diverse communities."

Premier Berejiklian said the south-west and western Sydney region is "key" to breaking the back of this wave of COVID-19 transmission.

She said some cultural groups may be hesitant about getting tested, or contacting public health officials, and said she wanted to break the stigma of getting tested.

"Dr Chant, the [health] minister and I remain concerned about the community transmission still lurking," she said.

"It's really important to make sure we're not missing any of these strains. We're just making sure, we're covering all the bases.

Community leader: Fairfield Hospital Director of Medical Services Dr Harry Doan. Picture: Chris Lane

Community leader: Fairfield Hospital Director of Medical Services Dr Harry Doan. Picture: Chris Lane

"NSW is on the right track with cases remaining low, however, I remain concerned that we are continuing to have cases diagnosed without a link to a known cluster.

"This is a call to anyone who lives in Sydney's West and South West to come forward for testing with even the mildest of symptoms.

"If you run a local organisation, business, community centre, place of worship, radio station or newspaper in this area we want your help to communicate this message."

Dr Chant encouraged people to come forward for more testing, highlighting that it was always free, regardless of whether people were eligible for Medicare.

Fairfield Hospital Director of Medical Services Dr Harry Doan, who has been working in the South Western Sydney Local Health District for more than 20 years, urged anyone with the mildest COVID-19 symptoms to get tested.

"I love this community and I encourage all our community members to go get tested," he said.

This story Community leaders play 'vital role' during COVID-19 first appeared on Fairfield City Champion.