June 24, 2021

Health navigators helping promote COVID-19 vaccination

Since December 2020, Northern Health has been working with Melbourne Polytechnic to improve understanding of our health system among students enrolled into the English As An Additional Language (EAL) program.

Morteza Fayyazi and Fatima Ait Bela Ouali are new migrants to Australia and EAL students, curious to learn more about the Australian health system and share the information with their communities. For Morteza, who holds a Bachelor of Nursing degree from Iran, interest in health systems comes natural.

“I started working as a health navigator two weeks ago. We talk about COVID-19 vaccination and safety, and we share information with the people we know – I sometimes go to Mill Park library or even just talk to people I know at the gym. I know people from various backgrounds, especially from the Iranian community,” he explained.

Fatima came to Australia four years ago from Morocco and got involved by attending a class on healthcare every Monday.

“I want to know more about the health system in Australia, especially because it is so different than the system at home. Those differences are the biggest challenges for migrants. Half of the health navigators who work with us are from the refugee backgrounds, while others are new migrants,” she said.

Students who have participated in the Health Navigator elective, a partnership program between Melbourne Polytechnic and Northern Health, will be employed to deliver information to multicultural communities in the City of Whittlesea.

Whittlesea Community Connections (WCC) supports the partnership between Melbourne Polytechnic and Northern Health and provides students and volunteers with CALD backgrounds with a local employment opportunity, funded by Department of Premier and Cabinet, as part of the 2020-21 Priority Response to Multicultural Communities during coronavirus (COVID-19) Phase 2.

“We’re excited to be working with the health navigators to connect with multicultural and faith communities in Whittlesea. Their training has provided a really valuable foundation,” said Emma Antonetti, WCC’s Manager, Equity and Impact.

The students recently co-presented with Associate Professor Craig Aboltins, Northern Health’s Head of Infectious Diseases, at an online COVID-19 vaccine information session with around 100 EAL students from Middle-Eastern, South American and Asian backgrounds.

“We were very proud to present with A/Prof Aboltins to our student community and to hear his answers to their many questions,” said Basant, one of the navigators.

The partnership is in its early stages, but is already showing potential for further growth, according to Carole Pondevie-Lay, Melbourne Polytechnic’s Community Liaison and Engagement Manager.

“Health is a key settlement issue and our teachers are constantly having to cover content about the very different system in Australia. Having health navigators in our student body is a great foundation for improving health literacy, and access to Northern Health experts has been invaluable,” she said.

It’s definitely a two-way street says Jason Cirone, Head of Northern Health’s Refugee and Asylum Seeker Working Group.

“We’ve certainly got the experts on hand but the students bi-cultural skills provide the other part of the equation. For some, this opportunity is coming just after their first year of settlement and it’s great to see them making such an important contribution,” he said.

Refugee Week 2021 is marked from Sunday 20 June, World Refugee Day, to Saturday 26 June. Northern Health is proud to have the opportunity to help facilitate programs that engage with our local migrant and refugee community.

Featured image: WCC Health Navigators, Fatima Ait Bela Ouali and Morteza Fayyazi presenting on COVID-19 vaccination in Arabic and Farsi to EAL students, Melbourne Polytechnic, Epping.