Actor-network analysis of community-based organisations in health pandemics: evidence from the COVID-19 response in Freetown, Sierra Leone


Freetown, Sierra Leone, is confronted with health risks that are compounded by rapid unplanned urbanisation and weak capacities of local government institutions. Addressing them implies a shared responsibility between government and non-state actors. In low-income areas, the role of community-based organisations (CBOs) in combating health disasters is well-recognised. Yet, empirical evidence on how they have utilised their networks and coordinated community-level strategies in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic is scant. This paper, based on a qualitative study in two informal settlements in Freetown, employs actor-network theory to understand how CBOs problematise COVID-19 as a health risk, interact with other entities, and the subsequent tensions that arise. The findings show that community vulnerabilities and past experiences of health disasters informed CBOs' perception of COVID-19 as a communal emergency. In response, they coordinated sensitisation and mobilisation programmes by relying on a network of actors to support COVID-19 risk reduction strategies. Nonetheless, misunderstandings among them caused friction.

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