Ensuring culturally diverse communities aren’t left behind on the road out of COVID

“We are always engaged after there is a problem – never upfront. The damage that has been done is quite severe on the ground and there is a lot of feeling that this is racist”- Randa Kattan, CEO of the Arab Council Australia

Croakey published a comprehensive summary of the think tank workshop hosted by the UNSW School of Population Health and organised by my colleague A/Prof Holly Seale. It features some inspiring practical activities led by culturally diverse communities, and the findings of research from across Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria.

“This current pandemic again highlights that there is a critical need to ensure services, communication and efforts and other pandemic strategies are designed and delivered in a culturally responsive way,” she said. Seale stressed collaboration with people from CALD backgrounds, including refugee communities, was critical to improving future pandemic plans as well as continuing ongoing COVID-19 activities.

Engage and empower: ensuring culturally diverse communities aren’t left behind on the road out of COVID

CALD Community COVID-19 Think Tank: Enhancing engagement

Monday’s Think Tank, organised by A/Prof Holly Seale and the Multicultural Health Communication Service, was a big success. More than 80 people from four states participated in the webinar and workshop sessions.

Lots of issues were discussed, but some of the recurrent themes were:

  • The critical need for concise, timely, and accessible plain English information for multicultural communities, in order to enable official translations, but also so that commmunities can draw on ths information for ther own communication and messaging.
  • We need to be genuinely working with people and organisations who are already working with CALD communities, and who are trusted by them. In doing this we need to reduce the emphasis on “pushing out” messages, towards more genine dialogue.
  • Emphasise and reocgnise the strength of communities and work that has alrady been done. We also need to recognise that most of this has been voluntary and unpaid – and that resources are needed.
  • While there has been fantastic work done at local and regional levels, there is a still a need for coordination at state and Commonwealth levels.
  • Better information-sharing would reduce duplication of resources, but also enable capacity sharing (culural understanding and advice, translation, interpreting, etc).
  • Written information isn’t enough. Audio and video information is more shareable online, and helps to overcome the complexitiies of written information (too much is still written at a Grade 12 level, needs to be at a Grade 8 level).
  • Speed is critical to combat misinformation.

The next step will be to share a report and the videos from the event, as well as further coverage by Croakey. In the meantime, the tweets below show some of the research and resources that were shared,


Promoting the Get Healthy information and coaching service in Australian-Chinese communities: facilitators and barriers

My colleagues Dr Cathy O’Callaghan, An Tran, Nancy Tam, A/Prof Li Ming Wen and I published an article on a pilot telephone health coaching program for Chinese Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking communities, which uses bilingual coaches and translated materials. The study found that:

The bilingual program was culturally and linguistically appropriate and addressed risk factors for chronic conditions. Participants formed positive relationships with bilingual coaches who they preferred to interpreters. They felt the program promoted healthy eating, weight and physical activity. Although Chinese stakeholders had concerns about participants’ ability to goal set, participants said they met their health goals and were committed to the GHS program. Strategies to enhance the program included promoting the bilingual GHS to the communities and stakeholders. Factors to consider beyond language in adapting the program to the Australian Chinese communities include meeting the heterogenous needs of the older population, ensuring community engagement and addressing cultural beliefs and practices.


The aspects of the study that I found interesting were that:

  • translation alone definitely isn’t enough to make a program culturally appropriate and relevant (which we knew but was good to have confirmed)
  • there were a broad range of health beliefs, priorities and attitudes amongst participants, highlighting that even within a relatively narrowly defined population such as this pilot, there is considerable diversity
  • bilingual staff were clearly preferred to interpreters. 

These points are all relevant to other bilingual and culturally targeted health programs. If you have any trouble accessing the article please let me know.


O’Callaghan, C., Tran, A., Tam, N., Wen, L. M., & Harris-Roxas, B. (2021). Promoting the get healthy information and coaching service (GHS) in Australian-Chinese communities: facilitators and barriers. Health Promotion International, daab129. https://doi.org/10.1093/heapro/daab129