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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.

Dr Melissa Parker


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.

Dr Melissa Parker


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 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:

  • Evaluation of Community Care Centres, Sierra Leone: including policy briefing published in February 2015.
  • Data collation and evaluation of the Ebola response to date in Sierra Leone.
  • Sierra Leone diaspora communications.

Ebola Response Anthropology Platform

Resource portal to enable rapid access to key resources in relation to the socio-cultural and political dimensions of the outbreak in West Africa


Key Outputs

  • The platform ( went on-line in October 2014 publishing all briefings entirely open-access
  • 11,464 unique users from 166 countries accessed the website 18,167 times in its first 12 months, viewing 50,585 pages and unique-downloading policy briefings 1,828 times. Background papers have been unique-downloaded 815 time and links to relevant external articles have been followed 1,899 times
  • More than 35 briefings and guidelines written by/contributed to by Platform members on a wide range of subjects
  • Contributed to WHO guidelines on Safe Burials; Community Care Centre design; Ethics of vaccine trials and the different strategies under consideration (ring vaccination, health workers etc)
  • Presented evidence to three UK Parliamentary inquiries on Ebola (International Development Committee, Science and Technology Committee, Africa All Party Parliamentary Group on Ebola, investigating ‘community led health systems and the Ebola outbreak’.)
  • Two seminars: ‘the end of Ebola?’ (Jan 29th 2015) and ‘Anthropology and Ebola’ (11th Feb 2015), hosted by LSHTM

Next Steps:

Since the 2014 Ebola outbreak, LSHTM and IDS have taken steps to develop an Epidemic Response Anthropology Platform (ERAP). This launched in June 2018 as platform for anthropologists to inform the response to future epidemic outbreaks..:-


Latest Updates

Press release

Jun 2016

Team wins first prize for social science response to Ebola


Briefing sheet

Apr 2016

A Game Changer: The Importance of Anthropology in Public Health Interventions


Related Resources

Peer Reviewed Ebola

Ebola vaccines, evidentiary charisma and the rise of global health emergency research

Peer Reviewed Ebola

Shadowlands and dark corners

Article, Peer Reviewed Ebola

Engaging ‘communities’: anthropological insights from the West African Ebola epidemic

Peer Reviewed

Ebola: myths, realities & structural violence

Peer Reviewed

‘Lassa Fever: The politics of an emerging disease and the scope for One Health’


Beyond biosecurity: the politics of Lassa fever in Sierra Leone

Peer Reviewed

Comparing social resistance to Ebola response between Sierra Leone and Guinea suggests explanations lie in political configurations not culture

Peer Reviewed

Infectious disease: Tough choices to reduce Ebola transmission

Peer Reviewed

Social pathways for Ebola Virus Disease in rural Sierra Leone, and some implications for containment


Ebola: how a people’s science helped end an epidemic


The limits to rapid response: Ebola and structural violence in West Africa

Peer Reviewed

Rat-atouille: a mixed method study to characterize rodent hunting and consumption in the context of Lassa fever

Peer Reviewed

Ebola: limitations of correcting misinformation

Peer Reviewed

Zoonotic disease: who gets sick, and why? Explorations from Africa


Ebola in Meliandou: Tropes of ‘sustainability’ at Ground Zero

Peer Reviewed

Understanding social resistance to Ebola response in Guinea

Peer Reviewed

Ebola, Running Ahead

Peer Reviewed

The Ebola crisis and post-2015 development

Peer Reviewed

Notes from Case Zero: Anthropology in the Times of Ebola

Peer Reviewed

Biosocial Approaches to the Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases

Peer Reviewed

Neglected Tropical Diseases in Biosocial Perspective

R2HC Funding for Ebola Projects.  A Rapid Response

 In August 2014, the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa was declared an International Health Emergency by WHO and within a couple of weeks ELRHA launched a rapid-response call for research to combat the crisis.  The UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Wellcome Trust and ELRHA opened a special funding window through the Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises (R2HC) programme.

 The aim of this emergency call was both to produce robust research findings that could contribute to the effectiveness of the response to the current outbreak and help to draw lessons for future outbreaks of Ebola and other communicable diseases. The projects funded will strengthen the evidence base for the Ebola response in topics ranging from diagnostics to anthropology, surveillance and disease control.

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