Principal Investigator: Melissa Parker, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
The Ebola epidemic in West African left 11,000+ dead and 17,000+ survivors struggling with devastating social, economic and medical consequences. The public health response faltered for a variety of reasons, especially social and cultural ones. To address these, a team of anthropologists with longstanding knowledge, partnerships and commitments in the ‘tri-border’ region of Sierra Leone-Guinea-Liberia mobilised in 2014 to bring real-time advice to the medical and humanitarian response as unprecedented and uncertain events unfolded.
The key deliverable was an online resource for local outbreak control teams to receive real-time advice from anthropologists and social scientists on how to build and implement context-appropriate interventions. The platform developed by this team hosts details on social, historical, political and economic issues that might influence the effectiveness of the interventions. The platform (ebola-anthropology.net) went on-line in October 2014 publishing all briefings entirely open-access. In the first 12 months there were 11,464 unique users from 166 countries who had accessed the website 18,167 times, viewing 50,585 pages and unique-downloading policy briefings 1,828 times. More than 35 briefings and guidelines written by/contributed to by Platform members on a wide range of subjects.
Anthropological research is essential - there is a tendency in the humanitarian world to have top down interventions which too hastily set aside the social, political and cultural context and mistakenly encourage a one size fits all approach. Anthropologists need to reverse this trend and to have a central role in global health policy and practice. This seems to be happening in the Ebola crisis in West Africa.
It really has been a game changer. In the past Anthropology has been given a minor role in public health interventions. This time, from the outset, senior ofﬁcials from the WHO, DFID, the UK Ministry of Defence and Ministers within Sierra Leone were pushing for Anthropological input to help identify the social, historical, political and economic issues that might inﬂuence the effectiveness of interventions seeking to prevent the transmission of Ebola
The initiative provided:
A common theme of the findings was the need to involve local communities, in all their diversity, in respectful dialogue when designing and delivering responses; another was the importance of avoiding one-size-fits-all approaches but instead attuning humanitarian responses to political-economic, social and cultural contexts to increase te effectiveness and impact of responses to Ebola.
Resource portal to enable rapid access to key resources in relation to the socio-cultural and political dimensions of the outbreak in West Africa
The Ebola Response Anthropology Platform enabled social scientists and outbreak control teams to interact to develop a co-ordinated, adaptive and iterative response to the Ebola outbreak. The research helped to build a more locally appropriate and socially informed outbreak response by providing clear, practical, real-time advice that engages with crucial socio-cultural and political dimensions of the outbreak. The research team also completed a number of rapid response fieldwork projects:
After the epidemic, ERAP members established the broader Social Science in Humanitarian Action Platform (SSHAP). SSHAP encourages effective, adaptive and contextually informed responses to health-related emergency crises, and contributes to expert groups at the UN and WHO. SSHAP has helped to shape more recent responses – including 2018 DRC Ebola and COVID-19 – and fed into the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee interim guidelines on humanitarian settings.
This study was selected by the R2HC for our Impact Case Study series. The case study is now available to view online.View
Team wins first prize for social science response to EbolaView
A Game Changer: The Importance of Anthropology in Public Health InterventionsView
In late 2015, the team presented evidence to three UK parliamentary inquiries on Ebola: the International Development Committee, Science and Technology Committee, Africa All Party Parliamentary Group on Ebola, and investigating ‘community led health systems and the Ebola outbreak’.
In early 2015 two seminars: ‘the end of Ebola?’ and ‘Anthropology and Ebola’ discussing this study, were hosted by LSHTM.
In August 2014, the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa was declared an International Health Emergency by WHO. In response, Elrha launched a rapid-response call to produce robust research findings that could inform the outbreak response and help to draw lessons for future outbreaks of Ebola and other communicable diseases.
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