by Professor Mahendra Patel, Senior Lecturer and Researcher in Pharmacy Practice
Public Health England’s review of the relative risk of COVID_19 in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups shows yet again that we are disproportionately affected by the virus. An important reason behind this are the unacceptable health inequalities that these communities have experienced for decades.
Our BAME colleagues make up a crucial part of the pharmacy workforce that we are all so proud of today. The General Pharmaceutical Council states that over 40% of pharmacists are of a BAME origin. It’s therefore vital their workplaces provide us with as much protection as possible against COVID-19, starting with a thorough risk assessment and access to the necessary Personal Protection Equipment .
The role of pharmacy
The BAME pharmacy workforce itself is also perfectly positioned to deliver services tailored to meet the health needs of the different communities. Many of us are based in pharmacies at the heart of some of the most deprived areas in the country, as well as serving densely populated BAME communities.
Being sensitive to the needs of the different BAME communities will help break down some of the invisible and traditional barriers of culture and religion to improving health. This could pave way for an effective means to reduce some of the wide variations in health and health inequalities that exist.
How can we make this happen?
- Identify the main BAME communities and their respective community leaders in your area – bearing in mind some religious leaders work with larger communities than others and therefore have greater reach
- Find out when the major religious and cultural events are celebrated by different faiths – often a time when relations are more easily developed, making way for greater trust to be built up
- Develop a meaningful and closer understanding of your local BAME communities in terms of their religious and cultural beliefs and attitudes. Building cultural awareness can be a bridge to reliable and trusting relationships
- Wherever possible make best use of the valuable BAME skillset within pharmacy teams – this is crucial in helping to develop stronger relationships with different patients of BAME origin, especially where language is a barrier
- Make community outreach work a regular activity – this will allow you to build community links and start to see results. Councils and other local authorities can be useful here too
- Use BAME media such as radio and TV, and get in touch with BAME social media influencers, to get key health messages out there. All of this helps reach out to a wide range of age groups, men and women, whole communities, and potentially in their own language.
Understanding different religious and cultural behaviours and attitudes is certainly a lifelong learning. However, as healthcare professionals on the front line of delivery it is vital to understand our communities better if we are to truly help address the health inequalities staring us in the face. Bigger factors such as poor housing, access to education and job opportunities are obviously central to affecting health, but beginning at ground level in our communities, we can really make a difference.