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Language Advocacy in the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada’s Report

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

From Risk to Resilience: An Equity Approach to Covid-19

This report identifies the different ways access to health care has changed since the first wave of the pandemic, and identifies ways to provide better access to health care in general. One of the main problems identified is virtual access to healthcare. Hospitals and various health care services are now operating mainly virtually, either by phone or online.

Yet, not everyone has access to these services. Digital services require internet access as well as training to use the technology, not everyone has the education or means to access it. For instance, older populations, racialized and lower income communities with no financial assistance or proper technology training may not be able to access these virtual services. In addition to that, communities who do not have strong official language skills might find trouble accessing healthcare information virtually. Someone who requires interpretation services cannot access healthcare through the phone/online if no interpreters are present.

When it comes to virtual care, there is a heavy reliance on verbal communication because there isn’t the same in-person interaction that occurs when one is physically present at a healthcare facility. Folks who struggle with language barriers are at risk of receiving mis-information about their condition or COVID-19. This mis-information could include conspiracy theories concerning COVID-19 , misconceptions about their condition or public health. We have all been in a position at one point or another of trying to google our symptoms and arrived at bizarre conclusions due to such mis-information. Self-diagnosis and conspiracy theories can be detrimental,; especially when communities have no means of finding the right information in languages they can understand. Now more than ever, interpretation services are integral to equitable healthcare access. “Misinformation can impede the delivery of accurate pandemic-related information, thus hindering efforts by public health officials to fight the pandemic” (From Risk to Resilience: An Equity Approach to Covid-19 Report, Page 52).

The report further identifies newcomers and racialized people as some of the most vulnerable communities when it comes to accessing healthcare and communication concerning the pandemic. When there are language barriers, these communities cannot access the right information, so they often resort to social media where misinformation travels rapidly. “ In a study of the most viewed YouTube videos on COVID-19, 27.5% of videos — with over 60 million views at the time of the study — contained non-factual information” - (Page 52). This is extremely dangerous because it means people are not acting according to the health and safety guidelines that actually help stop spreading the pandemic; rather, they are relying on conspiracies and misinformation.

Hence, communication is a vital issue for our healthcare systems especially throughout the pandemic. There are multiple facets to these communication barriers, and the most vulnerable people are those who have near to no access to any of this information due to language barriers as well as financial and education barriers. Given that 4.9% of Toronto’s population does not speak an official language (English and French), interpretation services are important for individual and public health and safety. The report highlights that, along with digital access to healthcare, one of the current priorities is facilitating easier access to interpretation services, access to affordable digital services and digital literacy. It is essential that communities from all different backgrounds are well-informed about their own health as well as public health.

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