The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the impact of social inequalities in health (SIH). Various studies have shown significant inequalities in mortality and morbidity associated with COVID-19 and the influence of social determinants of health. The objective of this qualitative case study was to analyze the consideration of SIH in the design of two key COVID-19 prevention and control interventions in France: testing and contact tracing. Interviews were conducted with 36 key informants involved in the design of the intervention and/or the government response to the pandemic as well as relevant documents (n = 15) were reviewed. We applied data triangulation and a hybrid deductive and inductive analysis to analyze the data. Findings revealed the divergent understandings and perspectives about SIH, as well as the challenges associated with consideration for these at the beginning stages of the pandemic. Despite a shared concern for SIH between the participants, an epidemiological frame of reference dominated the design of the intervention. It resulted in a model in which consideration for SIH appeared as a complement, with a clinical goal of the intervention: breaking the chain of COVID-19 transmission. Although the COVID-19 health crisis highlighted the importance of SIH, it did not appear to be an opportunity to further their consideration in response efforts. This article provides original insights into consideration for SIH in the design of testing and contact-tracing interventions based upon a qualitative investigation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of social inequalities in health (SIH) and the disproportionate burden of the pandemic and its consequences related to socioeconomic status, ethnicity and race, among other determinants of health. Public health interventions are likely to increase SIH when they are not considered in the design phase. Through a qualitative case study, we analyzed the design of one of the first local initiative providing testing and contact tracing offer to the general population in the Île-de-France region (Paris region, France) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This article discusses the uncertainty and challenges associated with consideration for SIH in the intervention design. It explores the diverse understandings of SIH among the actors and the complexities of cross-sectoral partnerships addressing SIH in times of health crisis. Despite a consensual concern for this issue among the respondents, an epidemiological frame of reference dominated the intervention design. It resulted in a model in which consideration for SIH appeared as a complement, with a clinical goal of the intervention: breaking the chain of COVID-19 transmission.

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