Changing the trajectory on the digital divide

Disaster films tend to have the same trajectory: a disaster strikes, the experts warn authorities, and the authorities delay taking the advice. Then, the disaster worsens until the expert advice is eventually heeded and the problem is solved.

This disaster story is too real when it comes to providing multilingual information for migrant and refugee communities about how to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

While many of us have adopted a morning routine of coffee-Google on the latest news in English, official multilingual information has been scant, poorly translated, not tailored, or very difficult to access. Migrant and refugee communities are assumed to find this information on websites themselves. Those who miss out are people on the ‘wrong’ side of the digital divide: older people, migrant women, the socio-economically disadvantaged and people with disabilities.

Research has highlighted significant disparities in COVID-19 related knowledge, attitudes and behaviours, with clear indicators that migrants have missed out. A small but concerning Melbourne study showed that one in five people did not understand COVID-19 information, or did not receive it at all. In Victoria, COVID-19 hotspots have fallen in locations with diverse migrant communities – the very same communities that have missed out on the information they need to keep well and protected from transmission.

So, how do we change the trajectory? For migrant women, equitable access to health information, and timely, non-discriminatory, culturally appropriate health care are key. Migrant women also need to be treated as an integral part of the whole community, not a peripheral group with ‘additional’ needs. They are our essential workers, family members, carers, civic actors and community members. They should be central, rather than invisible, within government policy and health protection strategies.

Going forward, we need to learn from what went wrong and work to address and eliminate systemic discrimination within and outside of the Australian health system. We need to look to gender equitable legal, political, economic and social solutions.

Now is the time for authorities to heed expert advice and to begin working with multicultural organisations to reach migrant communities with effective, tailored, in-language health messaging.

This is the moment the story turns.