New research has revealed how members of minority ethnic groups in South Wales coped with challenges presented by the Covid pandemic.
The study is the result of a collaboration between the COVINFORM team, Swansea Bay University Health Board, Neath Port Talbot Council for Voluntary Service, and Swansea Council for Voluntary Service.
Swansea University is part of COVINFORM, an international study analysing the way leaders and communities in Europe have responded to Covid, with a particular focus on the most vulnerable in society.
Among those disproportionally hit are health workers, at-risk groups, older people, children and migrants which has led to the latest report by research officer Dr Diana Beljaars, Professor Sergei Shubin, of the University’s geography department and Emeritus Professor of nursing Louise Condon.
The survey was designed, conducted, and written to help the region’s health leaders improve healthcare provision for a range of minority ethnic groups in South Wales.
Dr Beljaars said: “This study does not stop at showing how people with a minority ethnic background have had similar and different health outcomes as white people. Instead, it highlights the many differences and similarities between the ethnic groups.”
“Most importantly, though, it gets at the intricacies of people’s everyday lives in South Wales and the complexities of navigating the pandemic as all-encompassing life event. It is from the depth of this humanity that the report offers new suggestions for healthcare providers to improve their services for all.”
The health board’s Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic Outreach lead Shaz Abedean said: “The study reached out to those people who were seldom heard. Despite being in lockdown, by applying our engagement skills, we reached people who wanted to share their experiences of Covid. This was clear evidence to show it is not the BAME community which doesn’t want to engage but maybe it is the approach of services which make the community either reluctant or even unaware of any consultation or studies.”
The study documented the impact of pandemic measures on the lives of people from ethnic minorities in the region while identifying social characteristics that can also make people vulnerable.
It combined statistical insights into issues such as healthcare accessibility, employment, trust in authorities, pandemic information consumption, and mental health with specific open-ended questions requiring more personal reflections. These led to insights into topics including home, death, loneliness, family, and religion.
On being asked how their thoughts about death and dying changed during the pandemic, a female Muslim student, from Port Talbot said: “It’s sad, I can’t sleep properly when I think about it.”
One White Muslim woman revealed: “I wrote a message for my kids because life is so short - we are not guaranteed today, let alone tomorrow.”
The team also looked at the level of community support and there were mixed experiences.
The report said: “For many people pandemic initiatives introduced or strengthened existing community ties and social belongingness but some respondents remark on not feeling part of a community and/or feeling left out.”
For instance, a man whose Asian ethnic background is uncommon in the Swansea area said: “It's not easy to make friends with local people and sometime[s] I feel there is still subtle racism” while an unemployed man with a mixed Black/White Caribbean heritage, from Neath, said “I have lost contact with all,” adding that the pandemic made him feel more frightened and depressed.
Covid had also changed attitudes towards the health authorities, such as Public Health Wales and hospital leaders. One man with a mixed Asian/White ethnic background, from Swansea, noticed how some had lost confidence in the authorities’ judgement and witnessed others aligning with anti-vaxx ideology.
The report also gave people a chance to share their experiences about vaccinations and how they determined if they would have them.
“I blocked out the misinformation and listened to government guidelines,” said one Christian Black African woman, from Swansea.
The researchers feel their report has not only been able to diversify pandemic experiences beyond those of white Welsh and white British origin but had also helped break down the stigmas these groups have confronted about their engagements with pandemic measures. It is a follow-up to the broader and larger survey analysis Opinions on Test, Trace, Protect and Covid-19 vaccination services by BAME and White people in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot
The COVINFORM team now hopes its findings will be used to inform policy and improve health-based social inequalities for these groups.
Shaz Abedean added: “‘One size doesn’t fit all’ is something we know but is it really understood? The recommendations are an indication we need to start looking at our operational ways of working and tailor them to individuals’ or communities’ needs. It certainly has been a journey of listening and understanding.”