In March 2014, Liberia announced that there were two suspected cases of Ebola in Lofa and Nimba counties. Six months later, Ebola had spread to 14 of the 15 counties of the country and a state of emergency had been declared. By the time the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that Liberia was officially ‘Ebola free’ in May 2015, more than 10,000 Liberians had contracted the virus and the economic fortunes of the post conflict nation had faced a significant downturn.
I’m sure that to readers of this blog the Ebola epidemic that devastated West Africa a couple of years ago needs no introduction (just in case, here’s a nice summary by the Guardian’s health editor). So I’ll cut to the chase, and to a narrative that at the time was bubbling underneath more familiar debates about responding to health crises – you know, things like imperfect governance, fragile health systems, drug shortages.
All of them important, but this narrative was new. It was about fear, communication and cooperation – the human and social side of the crisis (explored in a SciDev.Net collection I commissioned at the time). There was also an unsettling undercurrent to it – one that conveyed ‘otherness’ and ignorance on the part of West Africans, fuelled by reports of violence against health workers and of communities resisting expert advice against risky funeral rites.
But if you listened closely, you could just about make out the voices of anthropologists trying to dispel notions that these reactions were about exotic or traditional cultures. Paul Richards was one of those voices, and luckily he’s put together a rare account of evidence, theory and experience in a book that should trigger real reflection on how we can do better in handling similar crises (hint: more listening).
Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic tells the story of the epidemic through the eyes of someone with intimate knowledge of the region and the rules that influence human interactions – very much an anthropologist’s perspective, not an epidemiologist’s. The book turns the mainstream discourse on its head, putting what Richards calls “people’s science” on an equal footing with the more orthodox science behind the international response. It captures how people and experts adapted to each other, falling into a process of knowledge co-production.
Happy UN Day for South –South Cooperation!
Investment in skills is vital to economic growth and competitiveness and poverty reduction. I believe that there is no better way to do that than to educate young graduates with expertise in high-demand areas to help grow African economies, create jobs, and support research.
How does political context shape education reforms and their success? Lessons from the Development Progress project
Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 – ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ – is one of the most important and challenging tasks in international development. In order to fulfil it, we require a better understanding of why progress and the impact of interventions varies so widely by context. One striking gap in our knowledge here is a lack of analysis as to how education systems interact with political contexts that they operate in. This report addresses this gap by drawing on evidence from eight education-focused country case studies conducted by ODI’s Development Progress project and applying political settlements analysis to explore how political context can shape opportunities and barriers for achieving progress in education access and learning outcomes.
Combining satellite imagery and machine learning to predict poverty
Reliable data on economic livelihoods remain scarce in the developing world, hampering efforts to study these outcomes and to design policies that improve them. Here we demonstrate an accurate, inexpensive, and scalable method for estimating consumption expenditure and asset wealth from high-resolution satellite imagery. Using survey and satellite data from five African countries—Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, and Rwanda—we show how a convolutional neural network can be trained to identify image features that can explain up to 75% of the variation in local-level economic outcomes. Our method, which requires only publicly available data, could transform efforts to track and target poverty in developing countries. It also demonstrates how powerful machine learning techniques can be applied in a setting with limited training data, suggesting broad potential application across many scientific domains. Data imagery of the report is available on the project website.
The West Africa Ebola crisis of 2014-15 killed more than 11,000 people, caused economic and social disruption in a massive scale, and left tens of thousands of children orphaned. In Sierra Leone, schools were closed for eight months, resulting in a lost year of learning. With the closure of schools and banning of public gatherings, Sierra Leoneans, having lived through years of civil war, knew the setbacks that lost educational opportunities would inflict on a young generation. The government, working with donor partners, initiated a number of interventions to mitigate these losses.
Tears cascade down her face as she embraces the mound, her cheek pressed to the dirt, a body six feet below. She wails, screams, bends backward and then throws herself back on the grave, again and again. A wreath sheathed in plastic nestles below a simple cross marker with a name and a date: April 24, 2015 -- marking one of the 4,809 lives claimed by Ebola in Liberia.
Dear Colleagues and Friends,
I wanted to take this opportunity to wish you a Happy New Year, and reflect on several notable events from 2015 - a year of remarkable progress in global health, and remarkable expansion for the World Bank Group's health, nutrition and population portfolio, which grew to more than $10 billion.
Amid the devastating effects of West Africa’s Ebola outbreak to human lives, communities, institutions, systems and the economy, there are lessons to be learned for the region to be better prepared to handle future outbreaks.
Granted, the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria was caught early before it spiralled out of control, unlike in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, but Nigeria was also able to successfully contain the disease. The country would have not been able to respond so swiftly if it had not had a history of responding to public health emergencies, such as recurrent cholera and Lassa fever outbreaks and lead poisoning, and developed an appropriate response capacity.
Some components of the Ebola response in Nigeria were adapted from the country’s polio eradication efforts, as well as infrastructure and capacity built in response to an Avian Flu outbreak in 2006. Until recently, polio had debilitated thousands of Nigerian children annually. In 2015, Nigeria marked the one-year anniversary of Wild Polio Virus interruption, and had before been declared Ebola-free.
So we ask: How did a previously weak system suddenly gain the momentum to operate efficiently and yield favorable outcomes? Are there lessons we can learn related to the effectiveness of future disease surveillance and emergency response efforts? In both instances [Ebola and polio], we found an alignment of several factors – what we call the seven “P’s:”
Just two weeks ago, the citizens of Sierra Leone celebrated the end of Ebola transmission in their country with cheering and dancing in the streets of Freetown. It’s a milestone worth celebrating in a country that has suffered nearly 4,000 deaths from the deadly virus.