Australia is facing a flu season of a “different nature”. Are multicultural communities aware?

The number of flu cases in Australia is skyrocketing, with several states making flu shots free and urging people to get bitten.
But multicultural advocates, such as Mohammad Al-Khafaji – CEO of the Federation of Ethnic Community Councils of Australia (FECCA), worry that health messages are reaching culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.
“Government health messaging across Australia needs to be improved,” Mr Al-Khafaji told SBS News.
“We have to make sure that [multicultural] communities understand the different nature of the flu season this time around.
“We need to encourage everyone to get vaccinated – not just against COVID-19, but also against the flu, because we know it could be just as dangerous for these communities.”
Data from the Department of Health shows that Australia has recorded more than 38,000 flu cases this year. Around 70% of those cases (more than 26,000) were reported in just two weeks this month – May 9-22.

Chris Moy – vice president of the Australian Medical Association – says this is a small sample of the whole infection, as flu testing and reporting of positive cases is not mandatory , so most infections are not recorded.


The increase in new cases has reached such a level that five states – Queensland, NSW, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia – have made flu vaccinations free.
“[The state-run health departments] are really worried. There are thousands of people hospitalized with COVID-19 that we cannot have the flu all at once, Dr. Moy told SBS News.
“That’s why state governments have made this decision to try [to] minimize the risks that the flu will also become an additional problem that will completely overwhelm our hospitals,” he said.
But are the urgent calls to get vaccinated against the common flu reaching CALD communities?
Mr. Al-Khafaji said that although commendable work has been done in this space, there is still much to be done.

“Some multicultural communities and some newly arrived refugee communities are not getting the essential health information they need,” Al-Khafaji said.

“We know this because we’ve seen the devastating effect COVID has had on them, whether it’s the towers in Melbourne or the situation unfolding in Western Sydney.
“So we know governments need to step in and really need to understand what went wrong and make sure we have systems and processes in place to engage with those communities,” he said.
Rita Prasad-Ildes is the Managing Director of World Wellness Group, a Brisbane-based multicultural health clinic with clients from over 145 ethnicities.
Ms Prasad-Ildes said even after more than two years of COVID-19, there was a lot of misinformation among multicultural communities about infections such as the common flu.

“People are not getting their messages from Australian government sources. A lot of it really goes through social media [as well as] information from their countries of origin and, of course, that may not be relevant,” Ms. Prasad-Ildes told SBS News.


During the COVID-19 outbreak, FECCA requested the Ministry of Health to establish the CALD COVID-19 Health Advisory Group.
“It brought together people from the multicultural health sector to provide advice and guidance to the Ministry of Health regarding the shaping of messages,” Mr Al-Khafaji said.
“This structure has worked very well in terms of advice and strategy. What we need to do now is ensure that the structure is duplicated in all states and territories.
According to Al-Khafaji, the federal and health departments must forge close partnerships with multicultural communities across the country.
“Many people are bombarded with health messages from everywhere. But what we found is that people listen to people they trust, often doctors in their community or leaders in their community,” he said.
Ms Prasad-Ildes said even the way messages are communicated needs to be worked on.

“Sometimes the way the translations are done, it’s not very clear,” she said.


Mr Al-Khafaji said the message should also be culturally sensitive.
“We need to make sure that culturally appropriate messages are conveyed in a culturally appropriate way,” he said.
“For example, some communities may believe that vaccines are not religiously appropriate or they may have this misunderstanding that catching COVID-19 is natural.
“So we need to be careful how we explain and deliver the facts that are sensitive to people’s cultures and faiths without offending them, but also presenting an alternative view that they understand to change the minds of those people.”
Following the success of the CALD COVID-19 Health Advisory Group, FECCA is calling on the government to establish the Australian Multicultural Health Collaborative as a leading national organization advocating for multicultural health on an ongoing basis.
“There’s still a lot of work to do… We need to make sure there’s equity in the health messages and there’s outreach to these communities because we know, statistically, that they’re underrepresented,” Mr. Al-Khafaji said.

SBS News has contacted the Department of Health for comment.

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