Edmonton

COVID-19 intensified struggles for Edmonton's ethnic communities, study finds

The report, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal this week, found COVID-19 made quality of life difficult in relation to finances, food, housing, child care, chronic illnesses besides COVID-19 and language barriers for accessing information.

Researchers collected 773 stories from immigrant and refugee families

Findings are based on 773 stories collected from ethnocultural communities in Edmonton in fall 2020. (Paul Smith/CBC)

The COVID-19 pandemic intensified existing struggles for ethnic communities in Edmonton, a new study shows. 

Researchers at the University of Alberta and the Multicultural Health Brokers Cooperative in Edmonton collected 773 stories from immigrant and refugee families of diverse cultural backgrounds.

The Illuminate Project saw 21 peer researchers gather accounts from local communities between September and December 2020. 

The report, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal this week, found COVID-19 made quality of life difficult in relation to finances, food, housing, child care, chronic illnesses besides COVID-19 and language barriers for accessing information.

Researchers came from a variety of ethnic backgrounds — Somali, Syrian, Iraqi, Chinese, Filipino, Bhutanese, Nigerian — and worked with University of Alberta co-lead researcher, Denise Campbell-Scherer.  

Campbell-Scherer, also a professor of family medicine, said the data compiled into the study showed struggles they didn't anticipate.

"We started seeing real problems with youth, real crises with some different situations with youth. We hadn't predicted that," Campbell-Scherer said. She said seniors also dealt with isolation and a lack of access to technology.

The researchers noticed several areas of emerging crisis: chronic and serious illnesses other than COVID-19, maternal care, mental health, triggers of past trauma, financial insecurity and legal concerns.

'People were going into crisis'

Funke Olokude, a program evaluation and research coordinator at the MHBC, said when COVID-19 hit, she started getting calls at all hours. 

"I was getting calls at midnight, at 3 a.m. And people were going into crisis and people were trying to figure all of this and make sense of all of this."

Olokude said the COVID-19 pandemic worsened inequities that already existed. 

"I noticed more fear and things like isolation," Oloduke noted. "People were losing their jobs or people couldn't go to work because they were sick." 

The report shows that families didn't have sufficient sick leave to allow for self-isolation.

COVID-19 also destabilized family units and made it more time-consuming and resource-intensive for people to support their families, the report shows. 

Ways to ease pressure

The study lists a number of ways of easing the pressures that cost little to no money and could be done in the short term. 

Sharing information on available resources through natural community networks, for example. 

Campbell-Scherer said there are also practical steps like waiving the requirement for family doctors to sign letters approving an extension of income support, 

Yvonne Chiu, co-executive director of MHBC and co-lead researcher, said The Illuminate Project aims to highlight struggles and strengths. 

"The idea is to make visible what is probably not visible to others about our population," Chiu said. "Most of us are privileged to have a decent life, we often don't notice those who are struggling."

Campbell-Scherer said a major goal of the project is to encourage people to work together.

Nobody is safe until everybody is safe- Denise Campbell-Scherer, University of Alberta study author

"Our hope collectively is that people will see," she said. 

"Nobody is safe until everybody is safe. And this is a dry run for some of the bigger challenges we're going to have over the next 20, 30 years."

Olokude agreed that the elements that affect ethnic communities affect all Canadians, especially when it comes to public health.

"If a sector of the population is not vaccinated it's going to affect all of us at the end of the day," Olokude said. "It's going to affect our kids at school because all our kids go to school together."

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