The social life of infectious diseases

The social life of infectious diseases.STEPS Impact Stories, December 7, 2016.

This story looks at how the ESRC STEPS Centre’s research on epidemics fed into responses to the Ebola outbreak in 2014, and the need for long-term work across disciplines to respond to infectious diseases. It is the first in a set of impact stories looking back at STEPS work over the past decade.

The Ebola epidemic that broke out in 2014 was the first to hit West Africa, and the worst ever recorded. Most of the cases were in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. By October the disease had killed nearly 5,000 people.


Health promotion, by CDC Global (published on Flickr under a Creative Commons attribution 2.0 licence)

As the outbreak grew, more and more agencies in the region and beyond joined the fight against it. Attention also turned to the dynamics of the outbreak, how best to prevent its spread, and how to treat people safely and effectively in urgent and sometimes chaotic conditions. As well as fighting the disease on the ground, it was important to understand the reasons behind its spread, and the social and cultural responses to it.

What went wrong with Ebola?
Why did the Ebola outbreak get as bad as it did, and what can we learn from the response? The scale and speed of the outbreak was put down to weak health systems, a lack of resources, and fear. But there were other factors too. It became clear that violence in the region had left a deep legacy of mistrust in the population, leading to rumours and suspicion of health workers. Changing patterns of migration may also have led people to be more at risk.

Read the complete article.

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