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2021 PHRP Award winners revealed

Two research teams have been honoured for their outstanding work in health literacy and communicating COVID-19 health information, in this year’s Public Health Research & Practice Excellence Awards.

The awards, announced today, celebrate outstanding papers that have been published in Public Health Research & Practice – an open-access, quarterly online journal published by the Sax Institute.

Winner of the Best Paper Award

This year’s winning team was 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 team surveyed over 4,300 Australians in April 2020, just as the country was reacting to rolling government health advice on COVID-19. Professor McCaffery said the aim was to understand 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,” she said. “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.”

Published in December 2020, 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.

One year and numerous lockdowns later, Professor McCaffery said Australia is in a “much better place” when it comes to health messaging, but there’s still work to be done.

“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.”

Winner of the Best ‘In Practice’ Paper Award

The Best ‘In Practice’ Paper Award recognises work authored by frontline practitioners – and this year it went to the team led by Abby Wild and Helen Skouteris at Monash University for their analysis 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 disseminating information to designing tailored solutions.

Ms Wild said the Monash University research team were inspired to undertake the research by the hard lockdown of Melbourne’s Flemington and North Melbourne public housing towers in 2020.

“(These towers) are home to residents of a wide array of cultural and linguistic backgrounds,” she said. “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.”

The paper was co-developed with community representatives, and Ms Wild says her team were thrilled to have the chance to learn from them and their experiences. “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 went on to say that there are 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.”

Recognising public health research that makes a difference

Editor-in-Chief of Public Health Research & Practice Professor Don Nutbeam congratulated the authors of the winning and highly commended papers.

“The winning authors’ contributions to the journal illustrate how high-quality research can guide public health policy and practice, particularly as we continue to adapt to living with COVID-19,” he said.

“I’d like to thank all the authors who have contributed to the journal in the past year – it is a privilege to be able to share learning and insight from a wide range of public health research, practice and perspective papers that have the potential to impact on public health and wellbeing.”

Here is the complete list of 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
Read paper

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

Read paper

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


Launched in 2018, these awards celebrate the high calibre of articles published in Public Health Research & Practice – an open-access, peer-reviewed, Medline-listed quarterly online journal published by the Sax Institute. All papers considered for the 2019 awards have appeared in an issue of the Public Health Research & Practice journal published within the past year.

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