Supporting communities from a Refugee background through COVID-19

16/Jun/2020     Mater Group

The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult and challenging for all Australians, but for people from a refugee background, extra support provided by Mater Refugee Health Service has proved essential.

A Mater Refugee Health Service initiative known as the “G11”, comprised of Refugee Health Consultants, played a vital role helping people from refugee backgrounds through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mater Refugee Health Service Capacity Building and Resource Coordinator Ally Wakefield said the G11 members have a great deal of knowledge and experience to share with the broader health sector.

“The G11 members work as consultants for Mater and also other areas of health including pharmacy, nursing, midwifery, interpreting, juvenile justice, disability and child protection,” Ally said.

“The group represents a unique model of consumer engagement and has provided feedback to Mater and Queensland Health about a range of health issues including breast health, immunisations, chronic disease management and patient engagement strategies.

“Members of the G11 are from refugee backgrounds and regarded as leaders in their communities including those from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Liberia, Burundi, Rwanda, Eritrea, South Sudan, Somalia and Myanmar.”

During COVID-19, Ally said the group’s most vital role had been the translation of public health information.  

“We were able to quickly identify a need to capture and disseminate COVID-19 information into these communities through established communication channels. Using audio and video messages translated into a variety of languages we were able to reach thousands of people,” Ally said. 

“Audio messages were sent through extensive social media networks including apps, community organisations and government departments reaching people in their appropriate language.”

Elizabeth Niyokushima, who is a member of the Burundi community, said translating the information into other languages was imperative.

“I felt members of the community took the pandemic more seriously when they saw it translated into their language, but we faced challenges of reaching the older members of the community who did not have access to technology and relied on younger people to help them,” Elizabeth said.

While the G11 focused on health literacy during the pandemic many other issues arose for people from refugee backgrounds while in isolation.

Sediqa Karimi, from the Afghan community, said mothers faced many challenges trying to home school their children.

“They either did not have access to the technology they needed or didn’t know how to use it. We saw older siblings trying to help younger ones and mothers struggling with how to educate their children in a language they did not speak,” Sediqa said.

Liberian community member Alie Kenneh said social isolation impacted the refugee community in many negative ways.

“Coming from a collectivist culture, we are normally such a socially connected group; it was hard for people not to visit with family and friends. Those who were older were particularly susceptible to social isolation which impacted other areas of their life including mental health,” Alie said.

Ally Wakefield said the COVID-19 pandemic has given the G11 the opportunity to explore issues communities faced in depth and workshop solutions for the future.

“We sought feedback from our members to find out how we can move forward and better support these communities in the future. We are already establishing new support networks and connecting in with other community-based organisations for support,” Ally said. 

Did you know Mater also auspices the Refugee Health Network Queensland? For more information about refugee health, subscribe to the Refugee Health Network Qld enews here:

Background on the G11

In 2012, the UQ/Mater Centre for Integrated Care and Innovation (CICI) recognised the need for engagement with refugee communities to address the growing issues of health literacy, access to medical care and treatment of chronic disease. 

With the application of community engagement principles, this initiative grew from an initial group of four women, to a ‘Group of Eleven’ (G11). The members have refugee and health backgrounds and focus on providing advice to clinicians, service providers and policymakers to connect the refugee community with the Queensland healthcare system.

This has been made possible through initial funding support from  Mater Foundation, NIB and St Vincent Health Funding.  More recently, funding from the Brisbane South PHN and Queensland Health has enabled an expansion of the work including the evaluation of the ‘Refugee Health and Wellbeing: A Policy and action plan for Queensland 2017-2020’.


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