SPOTLIGHT | October 15, 2021

Community Translation

This mural on the wall of the San Luis Valley Area Health Education Center, located in Alamosa, Colorado, depicts a traditional healer confronting the COVID-19 pandemic. The commissioned painting was created by local artist Blanca Maestas. Photo courtesy of the Colorado CEAL team via Charlene Barrientos Ortiz.

In Colorado communities especially hard hit by the pandemic, health officials realized they needed a way to deliver timely, more trusted information about COVID-19 vaccines and tests. The goal was simple: to reduce and reverse the still-soaring rates of COVID-related hospitalization and deaths among the state’s growing communities of color. So CEAL researchers there came up with a unique plan adapting a “Boot Camp” method for translation they have used across the state for a variety of health issues. However, in response to feedback from their community partners they renamed it “Community Translation.”

It’s an 8-week program of collaborative learning and creation that involves, not surprisingly, hard work. Or in this case, hard thinking.

“We bring community members together to take medical information and jargon and turn it into messaging and information that is relevant and responsive in communities,” said Sarah Brewer, Ph.D., M.P.A, an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Colorado and a co-investigator with the Colorado CEAL team who helps coordinate the unique program.

“Community Translation gives people a chance to talk to other people and figure out some of the solutions to problems in their community caused by COVID-19,” Brewer said. “The group often comes up with better ways to talk about the issues.”

The program, which includes 10-14 people in each group, brings together diverse members from all walks of community life: business owners, teachers, farmers or ranchers, essential workers, and more. It includes sessions with a medical expert to translate medical jargon into plain language, and consultations with graphic artists to translate ideas into impactful projects that resonate with the unique culture of the community.

“We bring community members together to take medical information and jargon and turn it into messaging and information that is relevant and responsive in communities."

Sarah Brewer, Ph.D., M.P.A.

Colorado CEAL, Department of Family Medicine at the University of Colorado

The groups are new and their members are still learning. But when they are done, they will have developed creative public health messaging—for radio, social media, T-shirts, hats, posters, and more. The program will also have a component consisting of additional community members who will provide feedback on what messaging is or isn’t working in their community. CEAL researchers believe when the program is fully implemented, the outreach to the state’s increasingly diverse communities will be unprecedented.

The Community Translation program targets five communities in Colorado where vaccination rates are disproportionately low: urban Latino communities in Denver and Pueblo, rural Latino communities in the San Luis Valley, urban Black communities in Denver, rural Black communities (mainly Somali) in northeast Colorado, and urban American Indian and Alaska Native communities in Denver.

Donald Nease, Jr., M.D., one of three principal investigators for the Colorado CEAL team and a professor of Family Medicine at the University of Colorado, said the program leverages the expertise of community members on the concepts, language, and images that resonate with their community to “translate” the science of COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines to successfully reach communities like these, and change minds.

“We are learning from our partner communities about the vital importance of building trust and avoiding blame and shame in conversations related to COVID-19 and vaccines,” he said, “The messaging and materials being created in our Community Translation groups by using these principles will greatly advance our ability to communicate the urgency of vaccinations.”

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