A group of doctors has formed what is called the Hindu COVID-19 Task Force to ensure Peel Region communities understand public health messaging about the novel coronavirus.
The task force, which comes under the umbrella of the Canadian South Asian COVID-19 Task Force, was established on Nov. 17. Its founders say the group is a non-partisan, grassroots organization committed to community health and well-being and to bringing COVID-19 transmission down.
Dr. Anju Anand, a physician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, said medical professionals came together to try to understand the socio-economic barriers facing communities around COVID-19 and to develop and disseminate “culturally sensitive and culturally appropriate” information for people not able to access existing public health messaging.
Anand, a founder of the task force, said it is also trying to find out why South Asian communities are so hard hit by COVID-19 and to address challenges through education.
Barriers include working in essential services, speaking English as a second language, difficulty navigating online booking systems, accessing testing at assessment centres and the challenge of isolating effectively when living in a multi-generational home.
“We’re really just hoping to get our message out to the community in a way and in many different languages that they understand,” Anand told CBC Toronto on Saturday.
“There’s definitely communication that’s not been accessible for people with English as a second language. With Canada and Peel and Toronto being so culturally diverse, we also do have to look at making resources that are more culturally diverse,” she said.
Anand said she is hoping that the task force will make a difference.
“If we can save some lives at the end of the day and get some appropriate messaging across to promote public health messaging — it is the same message, the issue is that there are different barriers — if we can work with everyone just to make sure that people understand and overcome these, then I will be elated,” she said.
The Canadian South Asian COVID-19 Task Force also includes the Sikh and Muslim COVID-19 Task Forces. The task forces are divided by faith but are not faith based and have a joint website, she said.
On Saturday, the Ontario government reported that Peel Region had 516 new cases of COVID-19 out of a provincial total of 1,822.
Dr. Priya Shah, a physician at North York General Hospital, said the task force was formed after the doctors saw a “huge need” in populations who speak English as a second language in Peel Region and that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected South Asians in particular.
“We know that with COVID-19 there are specific ethno-cultural factors that are driving transmission, whether that’s language, or multi-generational households, being an essential worker. There’s just so many factors across all communities,” Shah said.
“Basically we formed this task force as a way to distill information, take public health guidance and put it into a more language specific manner so our community could understand,” she said.
Shah said the task force is using Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and posting videos to improve communication. The idea is to reduce fear and anxiety around COVID-19.
“Our idea is to get the messaging across so we can get covid-19 transmission down,” she added.
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Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown said the city communicates in 10 different languages because it knows the city is a “mosaic of faiths, cultures and languages.” Peel Public Health, as well, has a translation widget that allows users to translate its documents into 10 languages. Brown said he supports the task forces.
“These are helpful efforts by the community,” Brown said. “It’s a beautiful thing to see in the community when you have medical professionals stepping up on their own time to look at how they can give back to support the community, understanding their own cultural ancestry.”
But he said the Ontario government still has a responsibility to provide paid sick days for marginalized essential workers and Brampton still needs an isolation centre in its northeast corner that has been extremely hard hit by COVID-19.
The South Asian community makes up a third of the population in the Peel Region, but currently represents almost half of all new positive COVID-19 cases reported, according to the Canadian South Asian COVID-19 Task Force.