Reported health and social consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable populations and implemented solutions in six West African countries: A media content analysis

PLoS One. 2021 Jun 16;16(6):e0252890. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0252890. eCollection 2021.


Coronavirus has spread worldwide with over 140 million cases and resulting in more than 3 million deaths between November 2019 to April 2021, threatening the socio-economic and psychosocial stability of many families and communities. There has been limited research to understand the consequences of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations in West Africa, and whether such consequences differ by countries' previous experience with Ebola. Using a media analysis of leading online news sources, this study identified the populations particularly vulnerable to the threats of the COVID-19 pandemic, described the consequences of COVID-19 experienced by these populations, and reported on the solutions to address them. All articles from the selected news sources published between January 1 and June 30, 2020 on 6 West African countries were imported into Dedoose. A total of 4,388 news articles were coded for excerpts on vulnerable populations, only 285 excerpts of which mentioned the existing effects of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations or implemented solutions. News articles from countries with past experience with Ebola were more likely to mention the pandemic's effects on vulnerable populations, especially on incarcerated people. Vulnerable groups were reported to have experienced a range of effects including economic disruptions, heightened domestic and sexual abuse, arbitrary arrests, health care inaccessibility, and educational challenges throughout the pandemic. With implications for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for 2030 in West Africa, these countries should consider and focus more strategic efforts on vulnerable populations to overcome their fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and to achieve the SDG for 2030.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Africa, Western / epidemiology
  • Aged
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • COVID-19 / virology
  • Child
  • Communications Media / statistics & numerical data
  • Disabled Persons / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data
  • Pandemics
  • Prisoners / statistics & numerical data
  • Public Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / physiology
  • Sustainable Development / trends
  • Vulnerable Populations / classification
  • Vulnerable Populations / statistics & numerical data*

Grant support

This study is supported by the University of South Carolina COVID-19 Research Initiative awarded to MK.The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.