Sub-Saharan African communities' experiences and engagement with COVID-19 and the related control strategies in Antwerp, Belgium

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Pre-existing racial/ethnic disparities in health, sustained by intersecting socio-economic and structural inequities, have widened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, little attention has been paid to the lived experiences of people in ethnic/racialised minority communities, and to the causes and effects underlying the COVID-19-related burden. This hinders tailored responses. This study explores Sub-Saharan African (SSA) communities’ needs, perceptions, and experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic and its control measures in Antwerp (Belgium) in 2020.

This qualitative study using an interpretative ethnographical approach adopted an iterative and participatory methodology: a community advisory board advised on all stages of the research process. Interviews and a group discussion were conducted online, through telephone, and face-to-face. We analysed the data inductively using a thematic analytical approach.

Our respondents, who mostly used social media for information, struggled with misinformation about the new virus and prevention measures. They reported to be vulnerable to misinformation about the origin of the pandemic, risk of infection with SARS-CoV-2, and the prevention measures. Not only did the epidemic affect SSA communities, but to a larger extent, the control strategies did—especially the lockdown. Respondents perceived the interaction of social factors (i.e. being migrants, being undocumented, having experienced racism and discrimination) and economic factors (i.e. working in temporary and precarious jobs, not being able to apply for unemployment benefit, crowded housing conditions) as increasing the burden of COVID-19 control measures. In turn, these experiences influenced people’s perceptions and attitudes, and may have partially impaired them to follow some public health COVID-19 prevention guidelines. Despite these challenges, communities developed bottom-up initiatives to react quickly to the epidemic, including translation of prevention messages, food distribution, and online spiritual support.

Pre-existing disparities influenced the perceptions of and attitudes towards COVID-19 and its control strategies among SSA communities. To better design support and control strategies targeted to specific groups, we need to not only involve communities and address their specific needs and concerns, but also build on their strengths and resilience. This will remain important in the context of widening disparities and future epidemics.
Original languageEnglish
Article number53
JournalInternational Journal for Equity in Health
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • COVID-19
  • Community engagement
  • Racial
  • Social and economic vulnerabilities
  • Sub-Saharan African communities
  • Ethnic minorities


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