What Worked to Reach Marginalised Communities During COVID-19?
NorWest co-op offers community-based programmes to indigenous communities

Protecting indigenous communities in Canada and refugees in central and Eastern Europe from COVID-19 requires community-based approaches that could be applied in other healthcare crises.

This emerged from field actors who shared their experiences and lessons at the Geneva Health Forum on Tuesday.

In Canada’s Manitoba province, indigenous communities were mistrustful of mass COVID-19 vaccinations, but reaching them was a priority for NorWest Co-op Community Health Centre. 

NorWest’s Kristin Bergen and Michelle Kirkbride identified the indigenous and ethnic communities they wanted to reach and then enlisted support from their leaders. 

They also stressed that to reach those who were most isolated and vulnerable, it was essential to help with things like booking clinic appointments and transport.

In addition, Bergen and Kirkbridge stressed the importance of offering mental health support for the isolated communities that become less reachable in pandemics and during Canadian winters. 

NorWest had a trained trauma team to help people to cope with pandemic stress, and empowered community members to talk about mental health to reduce stigma and build trust. 

NorWest also provided the community with effective information on COVID-19 and vaccines. 

Mental health support

The need for psychosocial support and mental health support was also highlighted by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ (IFRC) Sherry Joseph. Online communication helped IFRC reach out to many communities and refugees in central and Eastern Europe, while a network of volunteers assisted IFRC teams in Hungary, Romania, Czechia and Ukraine to ensure that refugees also received vaccinations and medical help. 

Sherry added that IFRC is scaling up first aid skills in remote populations, ensuring continuity of vaccination programs, developing mental health programs, and making sure their workers and volunteers are equipped to deal with individuals who have escaped from traumatic zones. 

“We have learnt to smile with our eyes,” he said since masks hide them and smiling is a key way of extending warmth and support to the communities that IFRC caters to. 

Joseph added that IFRC is setting up mental health hotlines, especially for the refugees from Ukraine. 


Image Credits: NorWest Co-op.

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