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Supporting Black Public Health

Registered Nurse, Martha Brown, administered the COVID-19 vaccine to Maxine Farmer during the Black Health and Wellness Clinic in Dartmouth on December 16.

During the pandemic, Nova Scotia Health Public Health and leaders from Black community organizations began meeting regularly to ensure support and local access to COVID-19 testing and vaccination. Throughout 2023 this work has been transitioning to support a longer-term strategy with a focus on the importance of vaccination as a part of a healthy lifestyle for Black people in Nova Scotia.

The Advisory Committee for Black Public Health started during COVID-19 as a collaboration between Nova Scotia Health Public Health, Department of Health and Wellness Public Health Branch, Health Association of African Canadians and the Association of Black Social Workers. It has now expanded to include other health and community-based organizations representing more voices from the unique and diverse Black groups in Nova Scotia. The overall goal of this collaboration is to improve Black health outcomes through the use of culturally specific approaches across the province.

“Working with Black leaders on this committee helps us serve these communities more effectively. We have an opportunity now to expand beyond COVID-19 and use the connections that we’ve made and lessons we’ve learned to better serve Black people much more broadly. I see this collaboration as a long-term investment in Black health and wellness, and a priority for Public Health,” said Dr. Ryan Sommers, Senior Regional Medical Officer of Health and Senior Medical Director Population and Public Health, Nova Scotia Health.

In June, Public Health gathered with representatives from African Nova Scotian and Black newcomer, faith-based and community groups, to discuss what could be done to build trust, make immunization more accessible, and improve vaccine confidence. It was a thoughtful discussion that opened new opportunities to connect with Black people and communities. Participants recommended actions to address anti-Black racism, build cultural competence in the healthcare system and plan for measurable Black health improvement.

“The discussion in June mirrored the conversations we’ve had with people in the community. What we heard is that the healthcare system has a lot of work to do to build trust so Black people can feel comfortable accessing services like vaccination. Ultimately what we need to do is communicate, collaborate, and be consistent,” said Sharon-Davis Murdoch, Co-President and founding member of the Health Association of African Canadians.

Following that session, the committee designed a campaign that would be inclusive of different Black groups, with materials tailored for their unique needs. They engaged with Black community leaders and organizations who agreed to help spread the word, and looked for opportunities to use existing programs to make immunization and broader health services more accessible in communities. Some of this work is now underway, and there are longer-term plans to ensure it remains a priority.

The first major undertaking as part of the campaign was the launch of Black Health and Wellness Clinics, which offered COVID-19 and influenza vaccines across the province and shared wellness information. When possible, they collaborated with others in the health system, like Nova Scotia Brotherhood and Sisterhood, to offer additional services.

“The Black Health and Wellness Clinics are just getting started, but we have plans to collaborate across the healthcare system and with other community organizations to offer more services when we resume in the spring. We’ve had great uptake from the fall clinics and expect to be able to do a lot more,” said Veronica Marsman, Co-Manager of Black Health & Wellness Initiative.

“Every element of this campaign supports the goals of building trust, cultural competency, and making immunization more accessible for Black people,” said Dr. Sommers. “Our committee has a lot of work to do, but we’re really encouraged by the support shown by our community partners, and the interest among our colleagues in the healthcare system to help us support Black health and wellness.”

Keep an eye out for the next phase of the campaign to support Black Public Health; there will be lots to share in the new year.

Photo: Registered Nurse, Martha Brown, administered the COVID-19 vaccine to Maxine Farmer during the Black Health and Wellness Clinic in Dartmouth on December 16. 

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