Simple safe access to good health not always possible in The Lucky Country

Australia is widely known as The Lucky Country, but the fact is that culturally and linguistically diverse people have poorer health outcomes in Australia. 

While this isn’t new information, data for Covid-19 mortality rates revealed shocking and appalling outcomes, with people both in North African and the Middle East 10 times more likely to die from Covid-19 than those born in Australia. 

This shocked young Australian woman Emma Koster, who set out to use technology to bring about change. 

While language barriers are only one of the contributing factors to this dire reality, it’s a form of structural racism she is determined to dismantle. 

“The pandemic really brought into sharp focus just how significant the discrepancies in healthcare can be among Australians. I started to think about how we could use technology in a way that would go some way to addressing that divide and those structural inequalities,” Koster says. 

Koster says the need for plain language when dealing with health and emergency issues is critical. 

“Translation services aren’t always translated in an accessible way. It all comes down to the language used by the translation service. Academic and formal language often doesn’t resonate or isn’t understood by non-English speaking community members,” she says.  

So, she developed a multilingual health communications platform developed to lead the charge for safe and equitable access to good health known as Solinary. It overrides some of the major problems of Google Translate and other computer-assisted translation tools by ensuring important health messages are delivered in plain speak. 

Solinary has been piloted by the Department of Health in Victoria to instantly generate and publish multilingual health alerts for notifiable diseases. Koster hopes that in time, Solinary can become a social enterprise.

Solinary is now looking to partner with relevant organisations to ensure Australians from diverse backgrounds get important messages in other healthcare and emergency settings. However, Koster admits that financial assistance to enable growth remains a challenge. 

The problem has been overlooked until now in part because startups usually focus on the customer. “When your customer isn’t the user, it’s really hard. It means that the end user has been overlooked, because the user doesn’t pay. Our customers are the intermediaries like the government or large non-profit organisations, who are also notoriously difficult to work with,” she admits. 

“Proving information in language and a format that community members from non-English speaking backgrounds can easily access is just one component of addressing health inequality in Australia. 

“Our research also demonstrates we need to address barriers like access to reliable transport, childcare, a lack of transparency around expenses and previous negative experiences to see real change and have impact,” she says.  

It’s not the first time Koster has tackled major social issues by building tech. She has been taking a digital human-rights-centred approach to create and deliver digital tools and to communities that need it most for years, including an in-language information tool for material health delivered via smartphones called MamaTalk.

“I believe in working towards a future when technology is used for good, and where good means for the good of all.”