Supporting western Sydney’s diverse communities- Harmony Day 2021

Harmony Week, culminating in Harmony Day on 21 March, has provided another opportunity to reflect on the lives of western Sydney’s diverse population – one of the most diverse in the country.

The annual celebration of inclusiveness highlights Western Sydney Local Health District’s (WSLHD) ongoing efforts to support culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities who need language help to access and navigate the health system.

WSLHD Multicultural Health Services manager Monika Latanik said her team identified a strong need for an agile and multi-faceted approach at the beginning of the COVID pandemic to keep communities up-to-date with rapidly changing situations.  

“The communities struggled to follow frequently changing COVID-19 messages,” Monika said.

“They needed to be given opportunities to make informed decisions to keep themselves, their families and communities safe.”

The multicultural team tackled the problem by bringing on board all layers of Western Sydney’s diverse society and establishing formal and informal partnerships. Stemming from this, the ‘COVID Safety Champions’ project was born.

WSLHD Multicultural Health program officer for African communities Abulla Agwa and WSLHD Multicultural Health Services manager Monika Latanik. Photo taken in January 2020 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We came up with the idea to reach communities at the grassroots level,” Monika said.

“We engaged with religious and community leaders, influential people, social networks and community workers who support migrant and refugee communities. Some of these people joined our ‘COVID Safety Champions’ project.”

A team of influencers equipped to support communities to be safe and healthy during the pandemic, the COVID Safety Champions possess a good understanding of people’s perceptions, concerns and beliefs.

“Reaching and targeting CALD communities on the ground through trusted, credible individuals and validated channels enabled two-way communication between them and us,” Monika said.

“We were able to effectively address their concerns, talk about misconceptions and provide the latest information about restrictions and testing.

“As a result, our communities felt heard and engaged.”

The multicultural team also collaborated with other NSW Health agencies, multicultural health programs, police liaison officers, Service NSW, Multicultural NSW, and local councils.

As part of this campaign, WSLHD Translation service team worked around the clock to translate COVID-19 information and messages to 26 languages.

The bilingual staff joined by bilingual community educators and some community leaders, developed a number of short audio and video messages to address immediate needs of communities.

The WSLHD Population Health team created a COVID Community Resources website with COVID information and resources in English and community languages.

Almost half the residents of WSLHD speak a language other than English at home, compared to only 24% in NSW.

The largest groups in Western Sydney include people from Sudan, India, China, Philippines, Lebanon, Korea, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Hong Kong, Nepal, Vietnam, Malaysia, Turkey, Iraq and Bangladesh.

We celebrate our community’s diversity and healthcare interpreters are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at WSLHD hospitals. To book an interpreter phone (02) 9912 3800.