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Covid-19 messages should be targeted to different communities, says SAGE

25th Sep 2020

Hamed Chapman

Messages should be “tailored to reflect local realities” to help address the grossly disproportionate impact on people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Communities (BAME), according to the scientific body that advises the Government in emergencies.

“Risk communication that is culturally appropriate may promote health-protective behaviours which can minimize the risk of Covid-19 in BAME communities,” says the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) in one of its recently published papers.

Translation into a range of suitable languages “is necessary but not sufficient.” What is essential is the “co-production and pre-testing of health messages with the target community to identify language that retains the meaning of the core message and considers the cultural context for the target audience.”

“Health messages should explicitly consider cultural norms including high-risk events (e.g., Eid and weddings), ensure they promote services that are accessible (e.g., multilingual contact tracers) and do not disadvantage the target community (e.g., loss of income due to self-isolation).”

Academics at the University of Leicester have also suggested that lockdown measures imposed in late March to slow down the spread of the Coronavirus may not have been as effective in BAME communities because of the “one-size-fits-all approach.”

The findings, published in the journal EClinicalMedicine by The Lancet in July, raise “serious questions” on whether lockdown on its own is effective for a diverse population after Covid-19 cases continued to rise in BAME groups in certain parts of the city three weeks after the announcement was made, while rates in White groups “dropped off very sharply.”

SAGE said that health messages should be “linked with social identities relevant to the target community, highlight risks to specific groups, and include stories from within the local community of the consequences of following and not following guidelines.”

It also warned that “fear-inducing messages should be avoided as, even when health messages are adhered to” as “stressors remain in the physical environment that are not within the control of individuals from BAME communities” they said.

“A communication strategy that targets capabilities, opportunities and motivations of communities from different cultural backgrounds is more likely to reach the intended audience,” their paper recommended.

“A health communication strategy tailored for communities from different cultural backgrounds which include stories that personalise experiences (reflective motivation) and are delivered by people that the target audience relates to (social opportunity), can increase understanding (psychological capability) and intention to comply with health-protective behaviours.”

In August, a leading public health academic told London Assembly Members he was “flabbergasted” by the failure of national Government’s original action plan for dealing with Covid-19 to ensure the provision of “tailored messaging” for the country’s diverse population, which would have been particularly valuable for residents in the capital.

Gurch Randhawa, Professor of Diversity in Public Health and Director of the Institute for Health Research at the University of Bedfordshire, said that despite having a body of law and other “fantastic instruments”, such as equality impact assessments, designed to lessen inequalities in many fields, “for whatever reason, to date the Government has not used those tools.”

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