The impact of COVID-19 on Brampton’s South Asian community prompts formation of taskforce

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Published November 26, 2020 at 8:50 am

A group of Brampton healthcare professionals and others have come together to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the South Asian community.

The Canadian South Asian COVID-19 Taskforce grew out of the need to find solutions for the heavy caseload of the coronavirus in Brampton, which, the group believes, has been caused by a lack of education, information, and inaction from the various levels of government.

As well as physicians, the taskforce is comprised of lawyers, healthcare workers, business leaders and volunteers from all backgrounds and faiths.

“The current mainstream modes of public health messaging has been ineffective in addressing the issues of COVID-19 in South Asian communities, which face complex challenges that are further exacerbated by the virus,” said Dr. Raj Grewal who, along with Dr. Simerpreet Sandhanwalia, is a co-founder of the taskforce. “Our grassroots organization will focus on reducing the transmission of COVID-19 through evidence-based education, public health advocacy, and community outreach.”

Statistics show that the South Asian community makes up a third of the population of Peel Region, yet currently represents almost half of all new positive COVID-19 cases reported.

The group believes the South Asian community faces unique challenges as the pandemic rages and that socio-economic barriers are contributing to the high rate of spread of the coronavirus. The taskforce hopes to reverse current trends through education and putting pressure on government to take action by providing more meaningful solutions.

The taskforce believes the high number of transmissions is due to members of the South Asian community working in high risk sectors of essential services such as food supply, healthcare, as well as transportation and logistics.

Further, many live in multigenerational homes, have underlying health conditions, and are also concerned with the stigma of COVID-19 testing.

“So many members of the South Asian community work in essential services, and a high proportion of our community does not have the ability to work from home due to the nature of the work,” said Guri Pannu, a strategic leader with the taskforce. “These regions have a disproportionate amount of South Asian essential workers that are at a higher risk of being exposed to COVID-19.”

Pannu went on to say limited access to financial support is a key consideration for government officials looking to reduce the spread of the virus among this community.

“Without it,” Pannu said, “these challenges will continue to exist after the lockdown measures are lifted, and these high-risk communities will continue to feel the brunt of a lack of investment in access to quality healthcare and the heightened risks associated with being an essential worker during the pandemic.”

Taskforce members say cultural and language barriers are part of the problem as affected South Asians may not be receiving the proper healthcare education, an issue they hope to address.

As well, the taskforce aims to educate public health officials and policy makers within the Region of Peel in Ontario on the drivers of COVID-19 transmission and the unique challenges faced by South Asian communities.

Specifically, the task force believes high-risk, marginalized communities can be supported with greater and different modes of testing facilities, improved education for worker safety, enforcement of non-compliant businesses, and access to financial support for essential workers who are unable to work as a result of contracting COVID-19.

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