Throughout the pandemic the Covid-19 Somali Test and Trace Partnership has ensured that Tower Hamlets’ largest Black community has had access to vital health services and had a voice in the borough’s crisis response. 

The partnership, funded by Public Health Tower Hamlets, includes Women’s Inclusive Team, Ashaadibi and the Somali Senior Citizens Club, three locally grown organisations bridging the gap between the Somali community and public health authorities through communication and engagement campaigns. 

The partnership has demonstrated what is possible when groups rallies behind a common purpose with a sense of urgency. In this case, ensuring the Somali community is treated equally.

Together, our accomplishments include helping the community to gain better access to mental health services as demand has increased during the pandemic; to access a food bank and community kitchen; offering support to self-isolating individuals, befriending services to fight loneliness and community information and discussion sessions with Somali community leaders from faith, health and community backgrounds. 

Our most recent engagement event took place in June and focused on health for the Somali community. Over 100 community members were brought together in a discussion covering the Covid-19 recovery; variants of the virus; Covid-19 vaccine up-take; how to come out of lockdown safely; Covid-19 testing in schools and general health.

The event was hosted by Somali influencer, producer and videographer Abdirahman Somali, with insights from Somali Senior Citizen Club managing director Jama Omar; Women’s Inclusive Team CEO Safia Jama; local imam and centre manager at Ashaadibi Education Centre and mosque Saeed Arshe; and Somali GP Dr. Samira Hassan. 

Dr. Hassan answered questions from the community, most of which focused on the vaccine. For example, one attendee asked about the effect the vaccine can have on a woman’s menstrual cycle. Dr. Hassan explained that there have been few reported cases of changes in menstrual cycles post Covid infection, which can be an indication of long covid, including irregular periods and worsening premenstrual syndrome symptoms. 

In terms of the vaccine itself, there are few cases of irregular bleeds or painful periods and it is currently not listed as a side effect of vaccines, she said. 

Attendees also asked if someone can be infected with the delta variant if they have been double vaccinated. Dr. Hassan explained that people can still get the delta variant after being vaccinated but the risk is much lower than if they have not been vaccinated. She reminded attendees that the vaccine is 95% effective, not 100%.

Feedback from the event has been positive. “It was so good to be at a session where the Somali community were spoken to and updated directly,” said one community member.

Organisers and speakers hope the event will increase awareness of the benefits of the vaccine. Jama Omar from the Somali Senior Citizen Club said, “The Somali health event was a powerful force in pushing the covid vaccination uptake within the Somali community.”

Dr. Hassan said: “This was a well organised event, tackling Covid and its effects with a multi-angled approach. Such great engagement from the local community members, leaders and grassroots organisations. These sorts of events are the cornerstone to real change in widening access to healthcare, breaking down health inequalities and tackling misinformation.” 

As a partnership we continue to have a shared focus in addressing community issues and gaps in access to services that the pandemic has exposed.

Emma Triggs is a programme manager at Women’s Inclusive Team.