Pandemic Preparedness: Local and Global Concepts and Practices in Tackling Disease Threats in Africa

start date
2 January 2019
end date
22 January 2023

Since the devastating outbreak of Ebola in West Africa in 2014-15, and given impetus by the Covid-19 pandemic, concern about deadly diseases with pandemic potential has grown significantly. As a result, the concept of disease ‘preparedness’ has shot to prominence in global health policy.

However, local people’s understandings of these diseases and their knowledge in preparing for them is often ignored. This research is highlighting the importance of local perspectives to disease response which have not been fully recognised and supported in global discourses so far. The project asks who is being prepared, for what, and by whom?

The research examines ‘preparedness from below’ – the understandings and practices of communities through which they anticipate and manage disease threats on a daily basis. In particular, global and local approaches might offer quite different ways of addressing three key themes which are central to our inquiry:

  • Risk and uncertainty
  • Knowledge and information
  • Agency and authority

Research is being conducted on preparedness at three levels: global, regional, and local, linking to established institutional architectures and practices as well as exploring local level responses to everyday uncertainties. Since early 2020, Covid-19 has been a major focus of our fieldwork and research at all levels.

The local-level fieldwork is being conducted in Sierra Leone and Uganda. This involves oral histories, participatory research and ethnographic fieldwork conducted in four sites, which track how people currently understand and deal with health events and threats.

We are tracking interconnections through interviews with global, regional and national actors – how particular ideas, frameworks, and assumptions travel and flow both ‘upwards’ and ‘downwards’. We are identifying entry points and pathways for connecting global, intermediate and local ‘assemblages’ in ways that build on, enhance and support the legitimacy and agency of communities’ ‘preparedness from below’.

Follow us on Twitter

Partner organisations include:


Image of Annie Wilkinson

Annie Wilkinson

Research Fellow

Image of Catherine Grant

Catherine Grant

Research Officer

Image of Esther Mokuwa

Esther Mokuwa

Visiting Researcher

Image of Hayley MacGregor

Hayley MacGregor

Research Fellow

Image of Kelley Sams

Kelley Sams

Assistant Professor, University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine

Image of Melissa Parker

Melissa Parker

Professor of Medical Anthropology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Grace Akello, Gulu University, Uganda

Paul Richards, Njala University, Sierra Leone

Alice Desclaux, Centre Régional de Recherche et de Formation à la prise en charge de Fann (CRCF, Senegal)

Khoudia Sow, Centre Régional de Recherche et de Formation à la prise en charge de Fann (CRCF, Senegal)

Frederick Martineau, LSHTM



Epidemic Response Anthropology Platform

The Epidemic Response Anthropology Platform (ERAP) is a resource to support a humane and effective response to epidemics. The aim of the platform is to promote evidence on the social dimensions of epidemics in different contexts and to improve the way this evidence is used in response planning.


Ebola Response Anthropology Platform

Anthropologists from around the world providing advice on how to engage with crucial socio-cultural and political dimensions of the Ebola outbreak and build locally-appropriate interventions.

Recent work


What Does it Mean to Take a “Leave No One Behind” Approach to Community Engagement and Involvement in Global Health Research?

Resource Guide 4

In this last publication for the 2020-2021 IDS/NIHR Community Engagement and Involvement learning series, we discuss what it means to take a CEI approach that prioritises ‘leaving no one behind’. As with other resources developed in this series, this text builds on a series of conversations...

Image of Erica Nelson

Erica Nelson & 4 others

28 September 2021

Journal Article

COVID-19, Public Authority and Enforcement

Medical Anthropology 39

The securitization of health is not a new phenomenon. However, global responses to the 2014–2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa reveal the extent to which epidemic preparedness and response is now shaped by geopolitical concerns. UN Security Council Resolution 2177 epitomizes this. The...

Image of Melissa Parker

Melissa Parker & 2 others

24 March 2021