A truck pulled into a supermarket parking lot in Côte-des-Neiges recently and people turned to look as it passed. From the roof, a loudspeaker blared a message: “In the red zone, let’s stay vigilant!”
The words were repeated in English, Mandarin, Urdu, Arabic, Tagalog, Tamil, Yiddish, Bengali, Creole, Vietnamese and Hindi—a rainbow of languages, all bearing a common message to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The so-called “COVID-mobile” is part of the public-health campaign supported by CIUSSS West-Central Montreal in the Côte-des-Neiges district, one of the most ethnically diverse corners of Canada. The CIUSSS has joined forces with community groups and places of worship to ensure that, in an area with a high number of immigrants, public-health messages reach their target.
That means speaking to people in their own language, and taking the message to places like the Maxi parking lot on Côte-des-Neiges Rd. For MultiCaf, the group behind the COVID-mobile, the multilingual approach is about more than simple communication.
“It’s a matter of respect. It says, ‘How do you want me to speak to you so that you feel invested in this mission alongside me?’” says Jean-Sébastien Patrice, executive director of MultiCaf. “We’re in a health crisis. This is a way to get everyone united against the pandemic.”
MultiCaf and our CIUSSS have formed an alliance along with other community partners to address the unprecedented public-health crisis. Their success is visible at the grassroots level. Besides broadcasting messages through loudspeakers, MultiCaf distributes healthcare packets at Metro stations and other locations; it also enlisted volunteers from the district’s ethnic and religious communities to go door to door in February to hand out health kits with masks, hand sanitizer and multilingual information about local resources.
Our CIUSSS provides groups like MultiCaf with up-to-date health guidelines, and it crunches data from Montreal’s Regional Public Health Department to help the group target “hot zones” in the event of a virus outbreak. “We can adapt quickly and give the groups the tools they need,” says Gilles Sirois, a Community Organizer with the CIUSSS public health team.
To Mr. Patrice, whose group coordinates the area’s COVID-19 Action Plan, that kind of support is “essential.”
« There is nothing we could do without the expertise, experience and leadership of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal. Absolutely nothing, » he says.
These partnerships have been critical in helping vulnerable residents in districts such as Côte-des-Neiges, and will be equally valuable as attention turns to mass vaccinations, says Spyridoula Xenocostas, Program Manager for the COVID-19 Prevention Team at our CIUSSS.
“How to best reach vulnerable people is a science and an artform. Our team does an amazing job,” Ms. Xenocostas says. “They’re dedicated, they know the communities, they listen, and they care.”
For Mr. Patrice, these community alliances are emerging as a positive legacy of the pandemic, since they have laid the groundwork for future cooperation on public health initiatives, whether it’s fighting obesity or encouraging kids to stay in school.
“The pandemic allowed us to do something that had never been done,” he says. “If we have other public-health messages to get across one day, we’ll already have the tools to do it. It will be easier to reach people, and see this whole mosaic join together in a common cause.” It’s a hopeful message, in any language.