PHRP Awards recognise exceptional public health research with real impact

Two COVID-themed papers – one on the gaps in Australia’s health literacy during the early days of the pandemic, and another on communicating COVID information to culturally and linguistically diverse communities – have been honoured in this year’s PHRP Excellence Awards.

The awards celebrate outstanding papers that have been published this year in Public Health Research & Practice, a peer-reviewed journal of the Sax Institute, and recently independently ranked Australia’s leading health policy journal.

This year’s Best Paper Award went to a team led by Professor Kirsten McCaffery, Director of the Sydney Health Literacy Lab at the Sydney School of Public Health, for their paper exploring the gaps in Australia’s health literacy during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers surveyed over 4,300 Australians in April 2020, just as the country was reacting to rolling government health advice on COVID-19, to determine how the public was responding to the messaging.

‘We suspected there would be inequalities in the understanding of the messaging, and that’s exactly what we saw,” said Professor McCaffery.

The paper identified inadequate health literacy in 13% of respondents, finding that people with lower health literacy and those who spoke a language other than English at home had a poorer understanding of COVID-19 symptoms and were less able to identify behaviours to prevent infection. Notably, those with lower health literacy were also more likely to endorse common misinformation statements about COVID-19.

“This was a time when it was really important to get the messages out quickly about hand washing and social distancing, but a lot of the health information at the time was written for white people with a university education, which of course misses a huge proportion of the population,” Professor McCaffery said.

“It’s very easy for providers of information to write text that a high proportion of the population can’t understand. It takes time and work to make messaging really simple. But what we know about COVID is that it really matters – if a few people don’t understand the information and don’t follow the advice, that can change a whole city.”

The Award for Best ‘In Practice’ Paper – which specifically recognises work authored by frontline practitioners – was won by a team led by Abby Wild and Helen Skouteris at Monash University for their work on communicating COVID-19 health information to culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. The paper found that partnerships between CALD leaders, communities and government are critical for effective health communication, and that often this requires moving beyond simply disseminating information to designing tailored solutions.

Ms Wild said the Monash University research team were inspired to undertake the research by the hard lockdown in 2020 of Melbourne’s Flemington and North Melbourne public housing towers, home to residents of a wide array of cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

“We were inspired by the extraordinary work and insights of CALD community leaders who, alongside frontline work in communities, were doing news interviews, participating in consultative processes and producing reports in order to raise awareness of the disproportionate effects of COVID on CALD communities and call for public health messaging that would more effectively reach these groups,” she said.

 “I think one of the most impactful parts of writing this paper was having an opportunity to glimpse the tremendous amount of energy, talent, insight and love that CALD community members have put into protecting and caring for their communities and the broader Australian community.”

Ms Wild said there were lessons to be learnt from what communities and health departments have achieved in the last 18 months.

“Moving forward, there is the opportunity to build on the relationships and rich partnerships between CALD community leaders and health departments that have been developed during the COVID crisis to embed meaningful and sustainable partnerships.”

Congratulating the winners, Editor-in-Chief of Public Health Research & Practice Professor Don Nutbeam said the work of the two teams, in their different ways, shows how research can make a meaningful contribution to public health policy and practice.

“The winners of these awards, along with those who have been highly commended for their contribution to the journal, are doing work that could end up having a long-term impact on Australians’ health and wellbeing,” he said.

“We are lucky to have researchers of this calibre in our midst, and I look forward to seeing how they and their peers will continue to shape Australia’s future public health landscape.”

The awards for Best Paper and Best ‘In Practice’ Paper celebrate excellence in public health research, practice and policy, and recognise the inspirational work taking place in Australia. The judging panel, comprising members of the Journal’s Editorial Board, judges papers for their potential impact on public health policy and practice, usefulness to policy makers, researchers and public health practitioners, rigour of methodology and quality of analysis and presentation.

Winning and highly commended papers

Best Paper

Health literacy and disparities in COVID-19–related knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours in Australia (9 December 2020)

Kirsten J McCaffery, Rachael H Dodd, Erin Cvejic, Julie Ayre, Carys Batcup, Jennifer MJ Isautier, Tessa Copp, Carissa Bonner, Kristen Pickles, Brooke Nickel, Thomas Dakin, Samuel Cornell, Michael S Wolf
Read paper

Best ‘In Practice’ Paper

Communicating COVID-19 health information to culturally and linguistically diverse communities: insights from a participatory research collaboration (10 March 2021)

Abigail Wild, Breanne Kunstler, Denise Goodwin, Saturnino Onyala, Li Zhang, Marama Kufi, Wudad Salim, Faduma Musse, Mohamed Mohideen, Molina Asthana, Mohammad Al-Khafaji, Mary Ann Geronimo, Daniel Coase, Erin Chew, Eddie Micallef, Helen Skouteris
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Highly commended – best papers

Impact of COVID-19 on healthcare activity in NSW, Australia (9 December 2020)
Kim Sutherland, Julia Chessman, Jiaying Zhao, Grant Sara, Amith Shetty, Sharon Smith, Allan Went, Sophie Dyson and Jean-Frédéric Levesque
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The impact of vicarious trauma on Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health researchers (10 March 2021)
Anne-Marie Eades, Maree Hackett, Margaret Raven, Hueiming Liu and Alan Cass

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Highly commended – ‘In practice’ papers

Challenges and solutions to sharing a cancer follow-up e-care plan between a cancer service and general practice (9 June 2021)
Jane Taggart, Melvin Chin, Winston Liauw, David Goldstein, Alex Dolezal, John Plahn and Mark F Harris
Read paper

What makes an effective antismoking campaign – insights from the trenches (9 September 2020)
Sarah Jane Beasley, Adam Barker, Michael Murphy, Toby Roderick and Tom Carroll

Read paper

Please acknowledge Public Health Research & Practice as the source for any stories on our papers.

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About Public Health Research & Practice

Public Health Research & Practice is an open-access, peer-reviewed quarterly online journal published by the Sax Institute. It is independently ranked by Scimago as Australia’s leading health policy journal. Click here to receive PHRP’s newsletter published with each new edition.

About the PHRP Excellence Awards

Launched in 2018, these awards celebrate the high calibre of articles published in Public Health Research & Practice. All papers considered for the 2021 awards have been published in the journal in the previous 12 months.