Compelled by the COVID-19 outbreak, Pooja Chandrashekar spoke to mobile health clinic workers across the city about their needs during the pandemic. The first-year Harvard Medical School student discovered that most information about the widespread virus was only available in English and a small number of other languages, leaving those who do not speak those languages in the dark.
“This makes it very difficult for immigrant and non-English-speaking communities to seek care for COVID-19,” Chandrashekar said. “We know from past epidemics like the swine flu that the lack of accessible information in one’s native language places these populations at a higher risk of infection.”
She decided to take action, creating the COVID-19 Health Literacy Project. Chandrashekar rallied a group of students from more than 30 universities to create fact sheets in languages not commonly represented in the American health care system. She tweeted about her effort on March 14 and included an interest form in a subsequent tweet that garnered more than 500 responses. From there, she formed a still-growing coalition of over 175 medical students.
Many of us are asking how we can meaningfully contribute to #COVID19 efforts as medical students.— Pooja Chandrashekar (@poojac99) March 14, 2020
Sharing an initiative I'm leading @HarvardMed: the COVID-19 Health Literacy Project.
There has been a real lack of accessible health information available in different languages.
Together, the students created seven fact sheets, in 35 languages.
“Our goal is to make sure we’re producing accurate, evidence-based information,” Chandrashekar said. “When you’re putting information out to the public and healthcare organizations are distributing it to their patients, you really want to make sure the information you’re providing is correct."
The project has partnered with more than 30 health care providers worldwide, including Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital. Partners display and distribute the fact sheets to patients in their care.
Going forward, Chandrashekar plans to keep building the network of partners and expanding the languages offered to serve the greatest number of people.