A lack of effort in spreading messages about rapid antigen tests to diverse communities may lead to underreporting of Covid cases, advocates say
Community organisations in NSW and Victoria are calling on their state governments to expand outreach to culturally and linguistically diverse communities, amid concerns of underreporting of rapid antigen tests results.
Service NSW, which launched its online system to register positive rapid antigen tests on Wednesday, offers translation options, while the Victorian portal tells users to call the Covid hotline for a translator.
But as cases surge across the country, multicultural communities say state governments could do more to engage people for whom English is a second language.
Selina Lee from SydWest multicultural services said there has been less communication and fewer resources available to diverse communities in NSW than during previous spikes in case numbers.
“There is very limited information that has been developed for diverse communities,” she said.
“The rollout of the mandatory registration of RAT results happened fast, and with limited community consultation.
“The reality is that there is a genuine risk of positive cases going unreported due to language and digital literacy barriers.”
NSW has threatened to fine people $1,000 if they do not register a positive RAT result.
Lee said digital literacy was essential to understanding the changes in health advice and the way changes are implemented.
“To address these barriers, translation of information is a peripheral solution and needs to be underpinned by community-led engagement, similar to the grassroots community effort to lift vaccination rates,” Lee said.
“Some are struggling to keep up with the frequent changes announced by NSW Health. Streamlined and consistent communication is key to minimising confusion,” Lee said.
“We have seen community engagement drop with the recent changes, and outreach has not been executed in different languages.”
A Service NSW spokesperson said that the NSW government was “continuously” working to produce translated materials on public health measures.
“The NSW government continuously produces translated materials for each phase of the Covid-19 pandemic including testing guidance and the registration of positive RATs,” they said.
“The RAT registration landing page is available in multiple languages to ensure it is accessible to culturally and linguistically diverse communities.”
Eddie Micallef, chairperson of the Ethnic Communities’ council of Victoria, told the Guardian measures needed to be introduced to prevent communities underreporting their cases.
“We need to ensure we don’t have underreported positive tests among sections of the community, particularly vulnerable migrant communities with low levels of English language proficiency and digital literacy,” he said.
“Considerable resources need to be put into multiple communication approaches to make the whole community aware of the RAT testing and registration process for positive cases.”
Micallef said diverse communities had struggled to keep pace with changing health advice.
“We have all been struggling to keep up with constantly changing health advice, regulations and definitions around close contacts, so it is an even greater challenge for many people from migrant and refugee communities,” Micallef said.
“The key challenge at the moment is the shortage of rapid antigen tests and people not understanding how to use them and further resources need to be put into community information campaigns.”
A spokesperson for the Victorian Department of Health said health advice was translated across 57 languages, but did not mention how communities were being reached.
“The Department of Health provides a telephone interpreter service through the Covid-19 hotline to record positive rapid antigen test results.
“Information on our website, including health advice, is translated across 57 languages and regularly reviewed as we move through different pandemic stages.”