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Int J Equity Health ; 21(1): 67, 2022 05 16.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1846842


BACKGROUND: In high income countries, racialized/ethnic minorities are disproportionally affected by COVID-19. Despite the established importance of community involvement in epidemic preparedness, we lack in-depth understanding of these communities' experiences with and responses to COVID-19. We explored information and prevention needs, coping mechanisms with COVID-19 control measures and their impact on lived experiences among selected racialized/ethnic minority communities. METHODS: This qualitative rapid assessment conducted in Antwerp/Belgium used an interpretative and participatory approach. We included migrant communities with geographic origins ranging from Sub-Saharan Africa, North-Africa to the Middle East, Orthodox Jewish communities and professional community workers. Data were collected between May 2020-May 2021 through key informant-, in-depth interviews and group discussions (N = 71). Transcripts were analyzed inductively, adopting a reflexive thematic approach. A community advisory board provided feedback throughout the research process. RESULTS: Participants indicated the need for tailored information in terms of language and timing. At the start of the epidemic, they perceived official public health messages as insufficient to reach all community members. Information sources included non-mainstream (social) media and media from home countries, hampering a nuanced understanding of virus transmission mechanisms and local and national protection measures. Participants felt the measures' most negative impact on their livelihoods (e.g. loss of income, disruption of social and immigration support). Economic insecurity triggered chronic stress and fears at individual and family level. High degrees of distrust in authorities and anticipated stigma were grounded in previously experienced racial and ethnic discrimination. Community-based initiatives mitigated this impact, ranging from disseminating translated and tailored information, providing individual support, and successfully reaching community members with complex needs (e.g. the elderly, digitally illiterate people, those with small social networks or irregular legal status). CONCLUSION: Study participants' narratives showed how coping with and responding to COVID-19 was strongly intertwined with socio-economic and ethnic/racial characteristics. This justifies conceptualizing COVID-19 a social disease. At the same time, communities demonstrated resilience in responding to these structural vulnerabilities. From a health equity perspective, we provide concrete policy recommendations grounded in insights into communities' structural vulnerabilities and resilience.

COVID-19 , Aged , Belgium , COVID-19/prevention & control , Ethnic and Racial Minorities , Ethnicity , Humans , Minority Groups
Int J Equity Health ; 20(1): 78, 2021 03 15.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1136225


BACKGROUND: The importance of community involvement in the response against disease outbreaks has been well established. However, we lack insights into local communities' experiences in coping with the current COVID-19 pandemic. This study explored both the impact of, and response to, COVID-19 within the Orthodox Jewish communities of Antwerp (Belgium) during the first lockdown period (March 2020 - May 2020). METHODS: We conducted an explorative qualitative study using a participatory approach. First, we performed a community mapping to identify relevant stakeholders. Through the active involvement of a community advisory board and based on qualitative interviews with key-informants and community members, we elicited lived experiences, attitudes, and perceptions towards COVID-19. Interviews were conducted both face-to-face and using online web conferencing technology. Data were analyzed inductively according to the principles of thematic analysis. RESULTS: Government-issued outbreak control measures presented context-specific challenges to the Orthodox Jewish communities in Antwerp. They related mainly to the remote organization of religious life, and practicing physical distancing in socially and culturally strongly connected communities. Existing community resources were rapidly mobilized to adapt to the outbreak and to self-organize response initiatives within communities. The active involvement of community and religious leaders in risk communication proved to be of great importance to facilitate the coverage and uptake of pandemic control measures while protecting essential community values and traditions. Creating bottom-up and community-adapted communication strategies, including addressing language barriers and involving Rabbis in the dissemination of prevention messages, fostered a feeling of trust in government's response measures. However, unmet information and prevention needs were also identified, such as the need for inclusive communication by public authorities and the need to mitigate the negative effects of stigmatization. CONCLUSION: The experiences of Orthodox Jewish communities in Antwerp demonstrate a valuable example of a feasible community-centered approach to health emergencies. Increasing the engagement of communities in local decision-making and governance structures remains a key strategy to respond to unmet information and prevention needs.

COVID-19/prevention & control , Communicable Disease Control/methods , Community Participation/psychology , Jews/psychology , Trust/psychology , Adult , Aged , Belgium/epidemiology , Communicable Disease Control/legislation & jurisprudence , Community-Based Participatory Research , Female , Humans , Male , Middle Aged , Qualitative Research , Quarantine/legislation & jurisprudence
Sex Transm Infect ; 97(6): 414-419, 2021 09.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-919096


OBJECTIVES: To examine changes in the occurrence of physical sex with non-steady partners among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Belgium during the first weeks of the COVID-19 lockdown and associations with sociodemographic factors, sexual practices, drug, alcohol and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) use. A secondary objective was to explore changes in PrEP use and the need for PrEP follow-up. METHODS: A cross-sectional online survey. The questionnaire was available in Dutch, French and English, between April 10 and 27 (2020), and disseminated via sexual health and lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer or intersex organisations throughout Belgium. Eligibility criteria included being 18 years or older, not being exclusively heterosexual and living or being born in Belgium. RESULTS: The sample included 694 MSM. Physical sex with non-steady partners decreased from 59.1% to 8.9% during the first weeks of the lockdown. Those who had sex with non-steady partners were significantly more likely to be HIV positive, to use PrEP or to have engaged in sexual practices such as group sex, chemsex and sex work before the lockdown, compared with their counterparts. Among those who used PrEP before the lockdown, 47.0% stopped using PrEP, 19.7% used event-driven PrEP and 33.3% used daily PrEP during the lockdown. Almost two-thirds of PrEP users had a PrEP care appointment in the weeks before the lockdown and a minority received follow-up elsewhere or online. Some PrEP users had concerns regarding their follow-up. CONCLUSIONS: MSM in our survey substantially reduced sexual contact with non-steady partners during the first weeks of the COVID-19 lockdown, suggesting that the risk for HIV and STI transmission in this period was low. We recommend ensuring access to sexual health services, such as HIV testing and follow-up for PrEP for the small group having multiple sex partners and engaging in sexual practices such as chemsex, or group sex, even in times of a pandemic threat.

COVID-19/epidemiology , Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis , Sexual Behavior/statistics & numerical data , Sexual Partners , Sexual and Gender Minorities/statistics & numerical data , Adult , Belgium/epidemiology , Cross-Sectional Studies , Humans , Male , Middle Aged , Physical Distancing , Quarantine , SARS-CoV-2 , Surveys and Questionnaires