While the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) welcomes the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recent announcement that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has at last come to an end, the new case identified in Sierra Leone highlights the need to remain vigilant against future re-emergence and flare-ups of the disease.
IDS Director, Professor Melissa Leach, also stresses that we must learn from the critical lessons Ebola taught us about preparing for new infectious disease outbreaks in the future.
Professor Melissa Leach, IDS Director, said: “There are hopeful indications that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is coming to an end, but re-emergence and flare-ups still continue to occur and monitoring and response systems need to remain vigilant.
“As we move forward lessons must be learnt and implemented from the Ebola emergency on the need to improve foresight, preparedness and response for future epidemics and pandemics at a global and country level, including here in the UK.
“It is vital that future epidemic preparedness and response is informed by interdisciplinary research, including the social sciences, and research funding should be increased for that work and for building local capacities in vulnerable countries. Social sciences such as anthropology played a crucial role in understanding local contexts and cultural practices, which were key to making systems on the ground to fight Ebola effective.”
IDS also highlighted in its evidence to the UK Parliament Science and Technology Committee inquiry on lessons from Ebola, that despite claims at the time, lessons from SARS and Avian Flu were not effectively implemented in ongoing pandemic preparedness across the world. For diseases of global importance, investments in revised understandings, capacities and governance arrangements therefore need to be made with general, rather than specific disease applicability in mind, and before crisis hits.
These messages are echoed in the just-launched report of the independent Commission on Global Health Risk convened by the US Institute of Medicine ‘The Neglected dimension of global security: a framework to counter infectious disease crises’.
IDS supports the report’s key recommendations – to strengthen public health systems, global and regional co-ordination and capabilities, and research and development geared to infectious disease threats. However as the Ebola crisis has shown, these measures risk failure unless coupled with socially-informed institution- and trust-building in vulnerable places, with community engagement at its heart.
For more information or to arrange interviews with Professor Leach, contact Hannah Corbett.
Notes to Editors
- On 14 January 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the end of the most recent outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Liberia, adding that all known chains of transmission have been stopped in West Africa. However, the following day a new case was confirmed in Sierra Leone, reflecting the ongoing risk of flare-ups.
- IDS Director, Professor Melissa Leach co-founded the Ebola Response Anthropology Platform and was lead social scientist in the UK and WHO Ebola scientific advisory committees during 2014-15. On 28th January, she will be presenting on the social dimensions of epidemic preparedness and response
- The Institute of Development Studies (IDS) is a leading global institution for development research, teaching and learning, and impact and communications, based at the University of Sussex. Our vision is a world in which poverty does not exist, social justice prevails and economic growth is focused on improving human wellbeing. We believe that research knowledge can drive the change that must happen in order for this vision to be realised.