Concern over rise in coronavirus cases among Somali community

One local politician says there are many factors which impact migrant communities in Helsinki when it comes to being vulnerable to coronavirus.

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File picture of Aleksanterinkatu, Helsinki, showing pedestrians and trams / Credit: iStock

Healthcare officials in the Finnish capital have expressed their concerns about the rise in numbers of Somali-speaking residents testing positive for coronavirus.

So far nearly 200 cases have been confirmed, which the City of Helsinki says translates to 1.8% of the Somali community in the capital, compared to 0.2% average among all of Helsinki’s residents.

“I find the recent spread of infection among minority-language communities very worrying. The situation demands enhanced teamwork, continued development of multilingual services and effective targeted communications” says Helsinki Mayor Jan Vapaavuori (NCP).

Both the City of Helsinki and HUS hospitals have produced and distributed information in several languages, as well as having websites in minority languages as well.

Doctors, nurses and other professionals from the minority-language communities have been included in efforts to track the rate of infection in Helsinki, in order to better understand the spread of Covid-19 and the reasons behind the chain of infection.

Despite these measures, however, the number of infections within minority communities  – and the Somali-speaking community in particular – has continued to grow.

“We have entered into discussions with the Finnish Somali League about new measures to improve the situation. We also need to boost our cooperation within the entire metropolitan area, as this situation is most likely not limited to Helsinki” says Vapaavuori.

File picture of Suldaan Said Ahmed (Left) during parliamentary election campaign, Helsinki, March 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

Somali community reaction

While outreach efforts have been ongoing, there is still more work to be done.

Helsinki City Councilor Suldaan Said Ahmed says the most important thing is that the community receives information in its own language – and adds that many volunteers from the Somali community are working to share information and advice, especially on social media where new Facebook lives have begun to appear as the latest trend in spreading accurate information.

“There is also a class issue involved, because many Somali immigrants work in low paid jobs like cleaners and bus drivers, so they don’t have the option to work remotely” says Said Ahmed, who tested positive for coronavirus recently, and has been recovering at home.

“There is also the issue that Somalis have large families. They are social people and they live together with different generations. Sometimes you have parents, children and grandparents living in one small flat. In such cases isolation is very different than with traditional Finnish families. We need to look at housing policy in the future, large families need large houses” he tells News Now Finland.

Said Ahmed says it is more important than ever that the role of Somali organisations focuses on sharing accurate and helpful information with the community.

“They need to give more information about how to self-isolate and how to protect themselves and their families.”