“It felt like building a plane while in flight”: the consideration of social inequalities in the design and planning of a contact-tracing intervention for COVID-19 in Montreal, Quebec

Beaujoin, C., Gautier, L., Gagnon-Dufresne, Marie-Catherine, Mikanagu, Rachel, Savard-Lamothe, Ashley, Cloos, P., Ridde, Valery, & Zinszer, Katie (2023, mars)

Canadian Journal of Public Health

Vol.114 | 11 p.



In Canada and globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased social inequalities in health (SIH), furthering the vulnerability of certain groups and communities. Contact-tracing is a cornerstone intervention with COVID-19 prevention and control programs. The aim of this study was to describe whether and how SIH were considered during the design of the COVID-19 contact-tracing intervention in Montreal.


This study is part of the multi-country research program HoSPiCOVID, looking at the resilience of public health systems during the COVID-19 pandemic. A descriptive qualitative study was carried out in Montreal, based on a “bricolage” conceptual framework describing the consideration for SIH in intervention and policy design. Qualitative data were collected using semi-structured interviews with 16 public health practitioners, recruited using both purposive and snowball sampling. Data were analyzed thematically, both inductively and deductively.


According to participants, SIH were not initially considered during the design of the contract-tracing intervention in Montreal. The participants were frustrated by the Minister of Health’s initial resistance to integrating SIH into their public health response. However, adaptations were gradually made to better meet the needs of underserved populations.


There is a need for a clear and common vision of SIH within the public health system. Decision-makers need to consider SIH prior to designing public health interventions in order for these not to further increase SIH in the future, especially in the face of a health crisis.