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Community engagement (CE) has been highlighted as a key process in the prevention and transmission control of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). However, the nature of the virus and national response strategies such as social distancing have challenged traditional methods of community engagement. In this paper, we discuss the role of community engagement in research during COVID-19. We first set out the case for community engagement that emerges from international guidance for research during public health emergencies. We then describe the challenges that are emerging with community engagement in health research generally, and on COVID-19 related research specifically in Africa in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We further describe the strengths and weaknesses of the current engagement and communication platforms, and suggest ways to overcome some of these challenges. We provide an ethical argument for researchers and research institutions to respond directly to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic by responding to emergency health care needs of the community; and provide some challenges and critiques of such an approach. Finally, we support the call for concerted efforts in responding to the global pandemic, requiring flexibility in funding.

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