BMC Public Health (Jan 2023)

‘No one size fits all’ – community trust-building as a strategy to reduce COVID-19-related health disparities

  • Margareta Rämgård,
  • Rathi Ramji,
  • Anders Kottorp,
  • Katarina Sjögren Forss

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 23, no. 1
pp. 1 – 14


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Abstract Background Citizens with low levels of social capital and social status, and relative poverty, seem to have been disproportionally exposed to COVID-19 and are at greater risk of experiencing poor health. Notably, the incidence of COVID-19 was nearly three times higher among citizens living in socially vulnerable areas. Experiences from the African Ebola epidemic show that in an environment based on trust, community partners can help to improve understanding of disease control without compromising safety. Such an approach is often driven by the civil society and local lay health promoters. However, little is known about the role of lay health promoters during a pandemic with communicable diseases in the European Union. This study had its point of departure in an already established Community Based Participatory Research health promotion programme in a socially disadvantaged area in southern Sweden. The aim of this study was to explore how citizens and local lay health promoters living in vulnerable neighbourhoods responded to the COVID-19 pandemic a year from the start of the pandemic. Method In-depth interviews with the 5 lay health promoters and focus group discussions with 34 citizens from the neighbourhood who were involved in the activities within the programme were conducted in autumn 2020. The interviews and focus group discussions were transcribed verbatim and analysed using qualitative content analysis following an inductive approach. Results Four themes emerged including, ‘balancing between different kinds of information’, ‘balancing between place-based activities and activities on social media’, ‘bridging between local authorities and the communities and community members’, and ‘balancing ambivalence through participatory dialogues’. Conclusion The study highlights that a Community Based Participatory Research programme with lay health promoters as community trust builders had a potential to work with communicable diseases during the pandemic. The lay health promoters played a key role in promoting health during the pandemic by deepening the knowledge and understanding of the role that marginalised citizens have in building resilience and sustainability in their community in preparation for future crises. Public health authorities need to take the local context into consideration within their pandemic strategies to reach out to vulnerable groups.