In September 2020, six months into the global COVID-19 pandemic, Gabriella Rundblad and Chris Tang launched twin projects, CoronAwareness and Social learning about COVID-19 vulnerability, to help ensure that key health messages from the Government and NHS were reaching minority ethnic communities with strong oral traditions (and no recognised writing system) for who English is not the dominant language, such as the Sylheti, Pashto and Pahari communities.
Many in these communities have found following NHS and governmental advice challenging owing to language barriers, especially the older members with a more limited command of English, making them more vulnerable to vaccine hesitancy and the risks of COVID-19 community transmission.
Professor Rundblad is a cognitive linguist whose research focusses on health communication. She spearheaded CoronAwareness, a project focused on preventing COVID-related illness in the Sylheti, Pashto and Pahari communities by increasing awareness of appropriate social distancing measures, improving communication skills among GPs and local councils, and enhancing trust in locally communicated health messages through a series of videos. In partnership with Dr Farhana Rahman, AskDoc and Widgit Software, videos were recorded in Sylheti, Pashto and Pahari with the help of GPs from the communities and disseminated through social media and WhatsApp with the aid of community liaisons to ensure maximum impact.
Dr Tang, whose research interests focus on the development and use of applied linguistic methodology and tools in public health communication, risk and disaster communication, launched the social learning about COVID-19 vulnerability project. This ongoing 12 month study seeks to identify the practices adopted by Bangladeshis in a London borough in response to the pandemic, the attitudes and beliefs that underlie them and whether and how these have been influenced by messages about social distancing. There are now clear indications that Britain’s Bangladeshi communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 related morbidity and mortality and live in poorer, overcrowded areas in urban centres where viral contagion is more likely.
The team created an animated short video entitled ‘A Corona Story,’ which tells the story of the community through the eyes of a Bangladeshi family living in East London. Watch the trailer below: