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Mortality among Belgian immigrants during the first COVID-19 wave in Belgium

A population-based study on mortality among Belgian immigrants during the first COVID-19 wave in Belgium. Can demographic and socioeconomic indicators explain differential mortality?

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Belgium has noted a significant excess mortality during the first COVID-19 wave. Research in other countries has shown that people with migrant origin are disproportionally affected. Belgium has an ethnically diverse and increasingly ageing population and is therefore particularly apt to study differential mortality by migrant group during this first wave of COVID-19.

Data and methods
We used nationwide individually-linked data from the Belgian National Register providing sociodemographic indicators and mortality; and the administrative census of 2011 providing indicators of socioeconomic position. Age-standardized all-cause mortality rates (ASMRs) were calculated during the first COVID-19 wave (weeks 11–20 in 2020) and compared with ASMRs during weeks 11–20 in 2019 to calculate excess mortality by migrant origin, age and gender. For both years, relative inequalities were calculated by migrant group using Poisson regression, with and without adjustment for sociodemographic and socioeconomic indicators.

Among the middle-aged, ASMRs revealed increased mortality in all origin groups, with significant excess mortality for Belgians and Sub-Saharan African men. At old age, excess mortality up to 60% was observed for all groups. In relative terms, most male elderly migrant groups showed higher mortality than natives, as opposed to 2019 and to women. Adding the control variables decreased this excess mortality.

This study underlined important inequalities in overall and excess mortality in specific migrant communities, especially in men. Tailor-made policy measures and communication strategies should be set-up taking into account the particular risks to which groups are exposed.