Doctor Farah Bede is a GP in Tower Hamlets who wants to study the impact of coronavirus on her community
Back in March 2020 Doctor Farah Bede, a GP in Tower Hamlets, knew that the oncoming pandemic would have a disproportionate effect on many of her patients from the local Somali community.
She said: “I work in an area with a high prevalence of illness and poverty, so I knew that my patients would be disproportionately affected.”
She started hosting webinars, explaining the seriousness of the oncoming pandemic in Somali.
Doctor Farah is Somali herself and has worked with the Somali communities around London before spending the past five years in Tower Hamlets.
She said: “So I know the London Somali community well!
“We were bracing ourselves. We saw the disproportionate effect of coronavirus on the BAME communities nationally but locally, a number of friends, family and colleagues sadly passed with the virus.
“I also saw the mental health impact of the repeated national lockdowns on vulnerable groups, and children I knew personally have been affected. Often with little or no access to counselling services in their language.
“I knew that things were about to change and that it will get really bad.”
Because of her familiarity, Doctor Farah also knew the barriers facing her community from getting proper medical attention, such as limited digital access of the community for booking online appointments and digital consultations with medical staff.
She said: “Somalis in London are an underserved community whose needs haven’t fully been catered for. They feel the services that have been set up are not tailored to fit their unique needs which has led to mistrust and widening health inequalities.”
Doctor Farah points to the fact there was an existing fear of vaccinations in her patients before the pandemic. She said: “Existing medical services are not bespoke enough.
“Before the pandemic, we were still working on showing patients that vaccines are safe, such as the MMR vaccine which was wrongly linked to autism.”
Referring to inoculations against coronavirus, she said: “All of a sudden people are asked to travel miles from their house to get another vaccine they have little trust in.
“So how can we reassure people the vaccines are safe? We need to understand what their particular needs are so we can treat them better, like offering culturally sensitive information in their mother tongue, as well as supporting primary care to offer more vaccines in surgeries as patient’s trust their GPs.”
That is why she started a study to understand the effects of the pandemic on Somalis in the East End.
There is very little data on the Somali community, but according to the 2011 census, there is an estimated 65,333 Somali people in London. And the issue is, she said: “We’re a minority within a minority. Despite the fact that we have specific needs, the data on the Somali community isn’t there to create bespoke services .”
One problem, said Doctor Farah, is that Somali people are not designated a separate category in many everyday forms.
She added: “A Somali ethnic tick box in the UK’s 2021 census is long overdue.
“It’s been really hard to digest the vaccine uptake data in ‘BAME’ communities and what it means for the Somali community.”
She also said: “The idea of ‘BAME communities’ almost otherises us. We’re different communities with varying health-seeking behaviours and we need to unpick these nuances if we are to create actual long-lasting solutions to existing health inequality.”
‘Health seeking behaviour’ is the technical term for how people act around seeking or avoiding medical help.
Find out more about and contribute to Doctor Farah Bede’s research .