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Stories and data from King County’s Ethiopian community to inform recommendations for public health communication strategies

Celena Adler, UW Epi News | July 21, 2021
4 minutes to read

The Tesfa Program hosts a weekly community meeting teleconference for the Amharic-speaking Ethiopian community in King County, focused on providing accurate and culturally relevant public health information during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers from the University of Washington School of Public Health Departments of Epidemiology and Global Health are collaborating on a project documenting the experiences of Amharic-speaking Ethiopian immigrants and refugees living in King County during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amharic, a widely-spoken language in Ethiopia, is one of the top languages other than English spoken in Seattle-area homes.

The researchers are working with Strengthening Care Opportunities through Partnership in Ethiopia (SCOPE) and partnering with the Tesfa Program, a grassroots response to COVID-19. SCOPE will collect and analyze data for the project, which will inform the Tesfa Program’s best practice recommendations for public health leaders.

“Most members of the Ethiopian community in King County speak Amharic and have their own cultural and religious beliefs, which influence their perception of public health information,” said Ashenafi Cherkos, a PhD student with the University of Washington Department of Epidemiology (UW Epi) and 2021 SCOPE fellow. “This project will enable us to identify the main information sources for the Amharic-speaking community in King County and which sources are trusted, as well as the impact of COVID-19 on the health and socioeconomic status of this community.”

The Tesfa Program formed out of the need to provide accurate COVID-19 information to Ethiopian immigrants and refugees in King and Pierce counties during the pandemic. Each week, the Tesfa Program hosts a community meeting teleconference for the Amharic speakers with local experts as guests. Attendees call in over the phone, rather than using a video conferencing platform like Zoom, with the goal of increased accessibility. 

“Tesfa’s mission is to reduce the disproportionate negative health, social, and economic impact of COVID-19 on the Ethiopian community in King County,” said Selam Misgano, Founder and Director of the Tesfa Program. “I am excited about the research partnership because it will help us showcase stories of resilience in the local Ethiopian community and identify best practices for working with this population. Our work will support public health and social services agencies to increase their capacity to better support the Ethiopian community using data-driven strategies.” 

Researchers from SCOPE are analyzing recordings from the Tesfa Program’s community meetings, as well as data from a survey sent to meeting attendees, regarding their experiences during the pandemic. Using SCOPE’s research, the Tesfa Program will help establish best practices and develop guidance for disseminating public health information to Ethiopian immigrants and refugees in the King County area. The goal is that this information will give insights into ways for public health leaders to effectively communicate about health issues with this population, regarding not only COVID-19, but other public health issues that may arise.

“There is a likelihood that there will be another economic downturn or another public health crisis,” UW Department of Global Health MPH student and 2020 SCOPE Fellow Laura Blasi said. “If that happens, the Tesfa Program can share this information with King County Public Health, as well as other public health officials to let them know the best ways to reach this population.”

The Tesfa Program is also producing a podcast as part of the project. “The podcast will capture Amharic speaking residents’ unique lived experiences and stories during the pandemic,” said Adino Tesfahun, a UW Epi PhD student and former SCOPE fellow. 

“What makes me super excited about this project is that I have witnessed the ways SCOPE changed the lives of mothers and children in Ethiopia, especially in the Gondar area where I used to work, and I am interested to see how SCOPE’s work will impact the Ethiopian community in King County,” said Tesfahun. “Collaborating with the Ethiopian community in Seattle is exciting for me as a new person to the city and to the United States in general.” 

This project is funded by a Learning from Community Stories – the Impacts of COVID-19 grant from Communities of Opportunities. Others involved with this project include Principal Investigator Brandon Guthrie (UW Epi, DGH, Global WACh), Project Coordinator Kate Rankin (SCOPE, DGH, Global WACh), Project Manager Rachael Podesfinski (Tesfa Program), and Research Intern Hewan Kifle (Tesfa Program, UW Public Health-Global Health major).