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Vulnerable refugee communities are disproportionately affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic; existing longstanding health inequity in these communities is exacerbated by ineffective risk communication practices about COVID-19. Culturally and linguistically appropriate health communication following health literacy guidelines is needed to dispel cultural myths, social stigma, misinformation, and disinformation. For refugee communities, the physical, mental, and social-related consequences of displacement further complicate understanding of risk communication practices grounded in a Western cultural ethos. We present a case study of Clarkston, Georgia, the “most diverse square mile in America,” where half the population is foreign born and majority refugee. Supporting marginalized communities in times of risk will require a multipronged, systemic approach to health communication including: (1) creating a task force of local leaders and community members to deal with emergent issues; (2) expanding English-language education and support for refugees; (3) including refugee perspectives on risk, health, and wellness into risk communication messaging; (4) improving cultural competence and health literacy training for community leaders and healthcare providers; and (5) supporting community health workers. Finally, better prepared public health programs, including partnerships with trusted community organizations and leadership, can ensure that appropriate and supportive risk communication and health education and promotion are in place long before the next emergency.


Originally published in Feinberg IZ, Owen-Smith A, O'Connor MH, Ogrodnick MM, Rothenberg R, Eriksen MP. Strengthening Culturally Competent Health Communication. Health Security. 2021 Jun;19(S1):S41-S49.


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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.