Influence of social experiences in shaping perceptions of the Ebola virus among African residents of Hong Kong during the 2014 outbreak: a qualitative study

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Introduction: The outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in Africa in 2014 attracted worldwide attention. Because of the high mortality rate, marginalised social groups are vulnerable to disease-associated stigmatisation and discrimination, according to the literature. In Hong Kong, ethnic minorities such as Africans are often disadvantaged groups because of their low position in the social hierarchy. In 2011, approximately 1700 Africans were residing in Hong Kong. Their overseas experiences during the EVD outbreak were not well documented. Therefore, this study investigated the EVD-associated stigmatisation experiences of African residents of Hong Kong with chronic illnesses, and how these experiences shaped their perceptions of EVD. Methods: A qualitative design with 30 in-depth semistructured interviews was conducted with chronically ill African residents of Hong Kong. Results: The interview data showed that the sampled Africans often experienced stigmatisation in their workplaces and in the community during the EVD outbreak. Their experiences of EVD-associated stigma were correlated to the embedded social and cultural values regarding ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. These experiences of being stigmatised shaped the perceptions of the Africans of EVD, leading them to view EVD as shameful and horrifying. They also perceived EVD as retribution and was introduced by Westerners. The participants' perceptions of EVD influenced their responses to and behaviour towards EVD, which may have posed potential threats to Hong Kong's public health. Conclusions: The EVD outbreak was not the only cause of the participants' stigmatisation; rather, their EVD-associated experiences were a continuation and manifestation of the embedded social and cultural values regarding ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. The experiences of being stigmatised shaped the participants' perceptions of EVD. Because of their marginalised social position and isolation from the main community, the participants had extremely limited access to reliable information about EVD. As a result, they used their own cultural beliefs to understand EVD, which might have ultimately influenced their health behaviours. The experiences of the participants showed that ethnic minorities in Hong Kong were in need of more culturally responsive social and health care support to obtain reliable information about the nature of and preventive measures against EVD.
Original languageEnglish
Article number223
JournalInternational Journal for Equity in Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • African
  • Ebola virus disease (EVD)
  • Ethnic minorities
  • Hong Kong
  • Perceptions
  • Social experiences
  • Stigma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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