Mater helps break down barriers in refugee communities

22/Jun/2022     HealthMater Group

Two people from refugee backgrounds who experienced cultural and language barriers after fleeing war-torn countries have been inspired to make a difference in their Queensland communities, enabling others to navigate better access to healthcare.

Somali-born Faysel Ahmed Selat and Grace Edward, originally from South Sudan, have helped boost COVID-19 vaccination rates and health care education among people from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds, through the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse - COVID Health Engagement Project, aimed at breaking down barriers in these communities.

The program is supported by Mater Refugee Health and is funded by Queensland Health.

“Providing culturally and language diverse communities with information and resources about COVID-19, vaccinations, booster vaccines, and living with COVID is important in making sure our communities are up to date with health information and stay safe,” said Mr Selat, of Inala.

Mater Health Executive Director of Residential Care and Community Services Fiona Hinchliffe said Mater Refugee Health, which worked in conjunction with the Refugee Health Network Queensland and key partners, had worked hard to build trust within refugee background communities across Brisbane about COVID-19 and were currently raising awareness about the flu season.

“Our team has worked with closely with Queensland Health and developed multimodal translated materials so those with language barriers can understand more easily these important health messages,” she said.

“Faysel and Grace have had a huge impact on helping people from refugee backgrounds understand things like border closures, travel restrictions, and hospital visitor restrictions.”

During National Refugee Week (19 – 25 June), Mr Selat, who is also the Somali Community Association of Queensland President, said refugee background communities had difficulties interpreting information released during press conferences during the height of the global pandemic.

“It was a very stressful time for so many people,” he said. “They didn’t understand the importance of the health messages.”

Ms Edward said the Mater Refugee Health team had helped hundreds of community members from diverse backgrounds including Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh, and many African countries.

“We provide advice and support to Queensland Health in responding to COVID-19 including feedback when messages and resources are not culturally appropriate  or need to be adapted for audio or video to enable community leaders, who have been critical to the response, share the information on accepted social media and other community channels,” she said.

Mr Selat who spent most of his childhood growing up in a refugee camp in Eritrea, said he arrived in Australia not knowing a word of English. He learnt English after he arrived and then went on to complete a degree in public health before starting work with the Mater Refugee Health team.

“New arrivals to Australia who can’t speak English don’t understand the information being released about COVID-19, and they don’t know where to access information,” he said.

“Our role is to help close the gap and make sure people get the right information to ensure our communities are as safe as they can be.”

For more information visit Mater Refugee Health

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