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’.
Partner organisations include: