I went on Punjabi radio to share COVID information with my community. I learned that multicultural media has been kept in the dark

Ethnic media is often unappreciated at times like these:

“I would encourage listeners to not take medicine as there are lot of side effects.” These are the types of uninformed messages I heard being blasted on a Punjabi radio show as I awaited my turn to speak about COVID-19 precautions.

As a General Surgery Resident at the University of Toronto, I decided to personally reach out to this media outlet to promote awareness around COVID-19 in Punjabi. I had recognized the importance of dissemination of cultural and language specific information while working with my patients, and colleague physicians from different specialties including Public Health, and Infectious Disease.

I was also inspired to connect with Punjabi radio and TV shows after seeing the way my family and friends relied on information from these sources. As part of my social media campaign, Humans in Brampton, I also spoke to a few truck, and taxi drivers who sometimes go on long cross border trips and they informed me that their sole knowledge about COVID-19 is from Punjabi, Hindi, and Urdu radio shows.

Moreover, I came across multiple tweets from community advocates urging physicians and public health officials to speak to the community directly. These tweets were in response to conversations in national media about the rise of COVID-19 cases in specific communities such as North East Calgary in Alberta, and Peel region in Ontario. What emerged from these discussions was the role of socioeconomic status, language barriers, health care and workplace inequities that exacerbated the pandemic burden in such communities.

Speaking to some of the Punjabi Radio and TV media outlets, I was surprised to learn how underutilized these platforms have been throughout the pandemic. One of the spokesmen for such a media platform informed me, “We have hardly been approached by physicians, public health or government bodies to run COVID-19 specific messaging on a regular basis. We would be more than thrilled to have them on our shows,” they said.

In another live Punjabi TV discussion that was being broadcasted throughout North America, I received a question from a New York resident who had tested positive for COVID-19 regarding precautions, and this solidified my belief that these highly impactful public platforms have not been utilized during the pandemic to disseminate life-saving information even across the continent.

I was also shocked to learn that more homeopathy and alternative care providers used these language specific platforms to deliver health related information than government bodies, and physicians. The lack of information and even worse, misinformation, can be dangerous for the community members as they are essentially in the dark about how to protect themselves from COVID-19.

Based on 2016 Statistics Canada data, Peel region in Ontario for instance had the lowest percentage (60.92 per cent) of population speaking in English at home. 4 per cent of the Peel population had no knowledge of English or French. Language, on top of other inequitable factors is another barrier many of these communities face when it comes to inaccessibility to health care and information.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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