Identify minority groups in your target area
Explore datasets with a critical eye for ethnicity and religion, and take time look up the regions where you are working in directories of minority groups, such as Minority Rights Group International. This will help identify minority groups in your country and access information regarding current issues and relevant history that may affect your response programme. As a part of the programme design phase and formative assessment, make sure that all minority groups are identified in your target area so that no one is excluded. Do not group minorities together because it may miss important differences between groups (e.g. a religious minority group may have different needs than an ethnic minority group, despite living in the same area).
We suggest you take the following steps when communicating with minority groups about the pandemic:
Raise awareness in minority communities: Take particular care to ensure minorities are included in your community outreach, and share information on how to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and how to access health care services.
Promote respect for human dignity and diversity: Speak out against misinformation, rumours, stigma and discriminatory stereotyping targeted at minority groups. Governments and public health officials may need to address their historical tendencies of linking the spread of disease to minority groups.
Communicate in the language that minority groups speak: Access to accurate, reliable and timely information that minority groups understand is key to having a successful COVID-19 response. The international non-governmental organisation, Translators Without Borders (TWB), have developed resources for how to communicate with the general population, minority groups and response staff during the pandemic. For example, TWB describes how in northeast Nigeria, the term “corona” or “korona” is more widely used to describe both the virus and the disease. The term “COVID-19” is used mostly for administrative communication. TWB also has an online glossary of terms relating to the COVID-19 pandemic in 46 languages.
Bridge the digital divide: In an era where information is being spread nearly solely on electronic devices, steps must be taken to ensure information reaches both users and non-users of digital devices. In areas where coverage of smartphones are high but not everybody has access to the internet, one option could be to provide free internet to users. In Peru, the government made public internet access free during the countrywide State of Emergency issued due to the pandemic.
Create an inclusive dialogue: Two-way communication with minorities should be at the core of COVID-19 response programming and may have a direct impact on the acceptance of and adherence to control efforts. In refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Rohingya women and girls self-mobilized and formed groups to inform neighbours, families and peers about COVID-19 prevention measures in the camp. Faith communities have also played a vital role in COVID-19 responses worldwide.
Image: Rohingya women keeping the community informed on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Cox’s Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh. Picture by UN Women.
A priority for COVID-19 response programming in minority communities should be ensuring access to food and other critical services throughout the pandemic. Minority groups living in poverty may have little to no access to food stocks and may not have enough cash savings to cover any loss of income due to the pandemic. In Tunisia, the Amazigh minority group implemented measures to prevent the outbreak from spreading in their town amidst growing rates of COVID-19 in the country. With help from the National Army, they managed to close the borders of the small town they live in and restrict any movement in and out. Food solidarity measures were then implemented by the National Army and the Regional Office of Commerce, allowing the community to protect themselves from COVID-19 safely.
Emergency financial aid for minority groups working in informal economies should also be a priority. Cash assistance will enable minorities to carry out economic activities (including accessing health care) as usual throughout the pandemic. Keep in mind that such assistance should be available to all, including those who may not be able to provide identification or proof of residence due to vulnerable legal status.
Address barriers to testing and treatment
Health care services, including testing and treatment for COVID-19, should be available to everyone, including those who lack identification documents. Understanding health-seeking behaviour prior to COVID-19 and understanding levels of trust that minorities have in public health services should be explored as a part of formative assessments prior to starting your COVID-19 response. Assessing the effects of stigma and discrimination of minorities in your target area can help explore if this has an impact on health service access. The costs of healthcare are a well-documented barrier to accessing services by minorities experiencing poverty. Ensuring that COVID-19 testing and treatment is available and free to all can help address this barrier.
Work with employers to ensure minority workers are protected
Including workers, employers and workplaces as your target population and/or setting could be a good way of reaching minorities. When working with employers, adequate COVID-19 response should promote and implement the following practices at their workplace: hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, physical distancing, reducing and managing work-related travels, regular environmental cleaning and disinfection, risk communication, training and education. Identifying where support for minority workers is needed can be done by conducting work risk assessments. These should take into account underlying health conditions and the employee’s age and ethnicity – these are crucial factors that have an impact on the level of risk the individual employee is experiencing, and often put minorities at increased risk of getting COVID-19. To reduce the severity of secondary impacts of COVID-19, such as loss of work, employment or income, responders should work with employers and authorities to ensure that financial aid schemes are available to minority workers.
Monitoring and evaluation
Ensure data collected is disaggregated to reflect different ethnicities, religions, sex and age. Data on testing confirmed cases and fatalities related to COVID-19 should be monitored and disseminated regularly in a transparent manner. It is important to make sure that all reports are available to minority communities in a language they speak.
For more information on monitoring and evaluation, please access our resources on:
Want to know more about engaging minorities in COVID-19 response?
Written by: Astrid Hasund Thorseth
Reviewed by: Christopher Bachtrog, Sheillah N. Simiyu, Eva Niederberger
Last updated: 11.11.2020