Multicultural communities call for more support amid struggle using rapid antigen tests

Rapid Antigen Test

As Australia moves towards more of a DIY COVID world, multicultural leaders fear the new expected independence is leaving their communities without the extra support they need.

Recent changes to quarantine and isolation rules in Victoria have created a greater reliance on rapid antigen tests (RAT).

However, with English-only instructions included in the tests, culturally and linguistically diverse communities (CALD) are left confused and without access to the same protections against the virus. The government is being urged to create universally usable pictograms with test instructions.

President of the Ballarat African Association (BAA), Michael Akindeju, said English-only instructions on RATs was a key multicultural issue raised at a meeting with the Ballarat COVID-19 Community Engagement Implementation Advisory Group on Monday. He said the inability of some multicultural communities to read instructions was “not good for the community and not good for the health system.”

“If people are not able to effectively use the kits as they’re supposed to, there will be a lot of false negatives or false positives”

“That’s why it is important to not only provide and make those kits available but to actually provide means by which people can actually use them effectively,” he said.

Dr Akindeju said to support communities, state and federal governments should look at ways to make the home testing kits universally understandable. “One thing we want the government to do is to take a sample and do a general pictogram that would communicate the steps that are required to actually use these rapid antigen test kits.” These instructions, he said, could then be included in pamphlets and be given to communities.

“Pictograms typically would convey or communicate better universally to a wide range of people.”

Struggling with access

Shepparton Afghan community health educator, Zahraa Taher, said multicultural communities were not only unable to use tests but had also been struggling with access. Ms Taher has been working tirelessly to translate health information throughout the pandemic, with the RATs simply adding more weight. “Most struggle with English, so they don’t even know about the rapid antigen tests,” she said.

“Even if they do, they don’t know where to access them.”

Shepparton health educator Zahraa Taher
Shepparton health educator Zahraa Taher is working to support the Afghan community in accessing rapid antigen tests.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Charmayne Allison)

Many are accessing information through social media or word of mouth or trained health educators like Ms Taher. “Most of them, they call me. They want to do the test, but they don’t know where to go,” she said. “It’s been a stressful time for everyone. But when you have a language barrier, it becomes harder and harder.”

Solutions to language and cultural barriers

In the western town of Nhill – population 2,000 – around 6 per cent of its residents are of Karen ethnicity. They are migrants and refugees from Myanmar, and for many, English is a second language.

Darren Welsh, COVID lead at the Nhill-based West Wimmera Health Service, said the community was also struggling to access RATs. “As they become available, they are quickly being snapped up,” he said.

Since an outbreak in November, the health service has created strategies to tackle language and cultural barriers with many community consultations and meetings with the Karen community.

Rapid Antigen Test
CALD communities are struggling to find – and use – rapid antigen tests

But Mr Welsh said the Translating and Interpreting Service remained the best point of first contact for people who needed help with COVID advice in languages other than English.

“Any situation like we did last year, with testing instructions, the information is being provided in Karen as well, but those services should be accessed in the first instance.”


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