Early epidemiology indicates older members of Britain’s Bangladeshi communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 related morbidity and mortality. Bangladeshis are more likely to have comorbidities and live in poorer, overcrowded areas in the UK’s urban centres where viral contagion is more likely. This cross-section of socioeconomic, geographical and health related factors underlines the need for clear messaging about social distancing in a complex and shifting risk scenario – messages that this vulnerable group, who speak an oral language (Sylheti), may not be able to access directly due to low literacy and English language proficiency.
This study will 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. Drawing on our earlier work, it will examine the role of social learning in how messages are accessed and interpreted and whether and how the health interactions of this older group are mediated by friends, family members and acquaintances. Social learning in this sense involves changes in understanding or reflections on the assumptions that underlie these understandings that goes beyond individuals or small groups, and becomes situated in wider social units or communities.1
In communicating about COVID-19, such a practice is likely to include relaying advice in English to older Bangladeshis, a task that requires more than just translation. It means reframing abstract, written conceptualisations of risk expressed in key messages into situational, oral understandings, while showing sensitivity to the cultural, social, psychological, environmental and historical influences on health behaviour.2
Nurjahan Julie Begum: Chair at the Swadhinata Trust
Ansar Ahmed Ullah: Researcher and author on a range of projects focusing on UK Bangladeshis, e.g. in collaboration with the Swadhinata Trust: The oral history project, ‘Tales of Three Generations of Bengalis in Britain’ (2006). Ansar’s research interests include the sociology of ethnicities, identity, nationalism, extremism and community history.
Sylheti Language Consultants
Lubaba Nusrat Khalil: A Sylheti-Bangladeshi applied linguist and ESL teacher living, teaching and researching in Canada. Research interests in Second Language Acquisition.
E. Marie Thaut: Project Manager, Sylheti Project – SOAS in Camden.
Ehtasham Haque: Researcher based in Tower Hamlets. Research interests include ethno-politics, British Muslims and John Rawls.
Mark Cabling: A social scientist specialising in health communication. His research includes diverse projects in both academia and government, investigating breast cancer, medical education, computational linguistics and domestic terrorism. He has just finished his doctoral study on online personal narratives of men with breast cancer.