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Ebola

Ebola: How a people’s science helped end an epidemic

Duncan Green's picture

Guest book review from Anita Makri, an editor and writer going freelance after 5+ years with SciDev.Net. (@anita_makri)

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.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

How does political context shape education reforms and their success? Lessons from the Development Progress project
ODI

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
Science

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.
 

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

The Closing Space Challenge: How Are Funders Responding?
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
As restrictions on foreign funding for civil society continue to multiply around the world, Western public and private funders committed to supporting civil society development are diversifying and deepening their responses. Yet, as a result of continued internal divisions in outlook and approach, the international aid community is still struggling to define broader, collective approaches that match the depth and breadth of the problem.
 
The Prosperity Index
Legatum Institute
Is a nation's prosperity defined solely by its GDP? Prosperity is more than just the accumulation of material wealth, it is also the joy of everyday life and the prospect of an even better life in the future. This is true for individuals as well as nations. The Prosperity Index is the only global measurement of prosperity based on both income and wellbeing. It is the most comprehensive tool of its kind and is the definitive measure of global progress.  The annual Legatum Prosperity Index ranks 142 countries across eight categories: the Economy, Entrepreneurship & Opportunity; Governance; Education; Health; Safety & Security; Personal Freedom; and Social Capital.
 

Campaign Art: Ebola still needs our attention

Roxanne Bauer's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Ebola has largely disappeared from news headlines in recent months as the epidemic started to settle. Earlier this week, on August 24, Sierra Leone’s last-known Ebola patient was released from the hospital, possibly signaling the end of the disease in that country. No new cases have been reported in Liberia since mid-July, and only three new cases have emerged in Guinea as of last week.

Yet, experts have warned that international organizations are still not capable of containing it, if it were to re-emerge. It's also clear that the economic impact of the Ebola virus outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone is profound, as the disease affected livelihoods and led to food shortages, loss of education, and widespread fear and mistrust in communities.

This is why #TrendOnThis, a new campaign from the Ad Council and Y&R New York, aims to keep Ebola on the forefront of people’s minds.  The campaign includes a series of public service announcements featuring celebrities David Oyelowo, Olivia Munn, and Lance Bass. These ads play on the typical, pandering commercials many celebrities have done and, instead, uses ironic self-deprecation to get the message across. Here’s Actor David Oyelowo, who introduces some tongue twisters based on his own name, like Oyelowo's Yellow Oboes, while emphasizing the seriousness of Ebola:
 
David Oyelowo: Ebola still needs our attention


Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

How democratic institutions are making dictatorships more durable
Washington Post
Voters in Uzbekistan, Sudan, Togo, and Kazakhstan will go to the polls in the coming weeks. Freedom House and others classify these countries as authoritarian and the elections are widely expected to fall short of being “free and fair.” How should we think about these elections — and the presence of other seemingly democratic institutions like political parties and legislatures — in non-democratic regimes? Why do leaders of authoritarian countries allow pseudo-democratic institutions? In a recent article in the Washington Quarterly, we use data on autocracies worldwide from 1946 to 2012 to show that authoritarian regimes use pseudo-democratic institutions to enhance the durability of their regimes.

Information Economy Report 2015 - Unlocking the Potential of E-commerce for Developing Countries
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD )
The 2015 edition of UNCTAD’s  Information Economy Report examines electronic commerce, and shows in detail how information and communications technologies can be harnessed to support economic growth and sustainable development. Electronic commerce continues to grow both in volume and geographic reach, and is increasingly featured in the international development agenda, including in the World Summit on the Information Society outcome documents and in the outcome of the ninth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization. The Information Economy Report 2015 highlights how some of the greatest dynamism in electronic commerce can be found in developing countries, but that potential is far from fully realized.  The report examines opportunities and challenges faced by enterprises in developing countries that wish to access and use e-commerce. 
 

#2 from 2014: Entertainment Media Can Help Change Behaviors and Stop the Ebola Outbreak

Margaret Miller's picture

Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2014.
This post was originally posted on August 06, 2014


In the wake of the current Ebola crisis, the 2011 movie Contagion (See the trailer here) directed by Steven Soderbergh has repeatedly been cited as one of the best examples of a movie taking on the subject of pandemic disease and managing to educate while providing gripping entertainment. This is no coincidence.Contagion was produced with both A-list stars (Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, and others) and support from leading public health experts such as Dr. Ian Lipkin who is the inspiration for one of the scientists portrayed in the film, and award-winning writer Laurie Garrett, author of several books including The Coming Plague. Participant Media, founded by Jeff Skoll to inspire social change through entertainment, was a producer, with the Skoll Global Threats Fund, World Health Organization (WHO), and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) providing input as well.

The tagline from the film is “No One is Immune…to Fear.” While one of the early scenes is of a woman dying of a flu-like illness (played by Paltrow) the movie elicits fear not from gruesome symptoms but instead from plot lines and messages that focus on how human responses to these types of public health crises make matters worse. It also showcases the valuable work done by epidemiologists and other public health workers who are the heroes of this film. Contagion communicates these and other lessons effectively using the power of story, a subject recently discussed on this blog.

Blog Post of the Month: Ebola and the Role of C4D

Paolo Mefalopulos's picture

Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion.

In November 2014, the most popular blog post was "Ebola and the Role of C4D" by Paolo Mefalopulos of UNICEF.

In this post, Paolo describes the urgent need to use communication for development (C4D) in the fight against Ebola.  While a medical response is clearly necessary, there is also an urgent need to monitor and prevent the spread of the disease. Like many other public issues, monitoring and prevention of Ebola requires informing the public of the scope of the problem as well as the possible solutions. C4D is helpful in this regard because it helps educate people and encourages community members to change social norms, attitudes and behaviours. 

Paolo asserts, "C4D experts should be given the space and autonomy to address and engage communities with a blend of expert-driven messages as well as knowledge derived from local norms, maintaining a rigorous and effective approach without being pushed by external pressures that value immediate products over long-lasting results through community engagement."

Campaign Art: Africa Stop Ebola

Roxanne Bauer's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Since the start of the current Ebola outbreak, music has been a part of efforts to sensitize and educate people about the disease. Artists in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the three most affected countries, have produced several songs to inform people that the virus is real and "don't touch your friend".

The latest song to hit the airwaves, "Africa Stop Ebola", was written by Kandia Kora and Sekou Kouyaté, both of whom are from Guinea and are among the performers. It is based on lyrics outlined by Carlos Chirinos, a professor at New York University who specializes in music, radio and social change. The lyrics express messages of caution and comfort, warning people not to touch the bodies of the sick or deceased and encouraging them to trust doctors, wash their hands, and take proactive steps if they feel the symptoms of Ebola.

The song aims to build confidence in the public health sector through the cachet of the artists. Across West Africa, music, theater, and radio are popular media to spread public information, and performers are well- respected public figures with enough social weight that people to listen to them.

In order to ensure the song's messages are clear regardless of the level of literacy or education of the listeners, it is performed in French and local languages widely understood across the region.
 
Africa Stop Ebola

Ebola and the Role of C4D

Paolo Mefalopulos's picture

Ebola has been defined as the most serious challenge humanity has faced in recent times. The mobilization for addressing this challenge is becoming greater by the day— many colleagues are already fighting this emergency and others are ready to join the fight. The medical response, which at first came under fire, is now being adjusted and improved rapidly. Nevertheless, a medical curative response, as good as it can be, it is not sufficient to win this war. There is the need to monitor, respond quickly, and, most of all, prevent the spread of the disease. A number of actions and expertise need to work together to be effective. One of such key area of expertise is Communication for Development or C4D.
 

C4D- also at times known as Development Communication, Behaviour Change Communication or Communication for Social Change- is probably one of the most critical, yet often neglected ingredient of development. Its adoption and institutionalization has traditionally gone through a number of ups and downs since it first began to be applied in a more scientific manner in the 70s. The reasons for such swings are not always clear since its functions and objectives have been, and still are, consistently acknowledged as crucial to achieving an effective, sustainable and people-based kind of development.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Accountability, Transparency, Participation, and Inclusion: A New Development Consensus?
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Four key principles—accountability, transparency, participation, and inclusion—have in recent years become nearly universal features of the policy statements and programs of international development organizations. Yet this apparently widespread new consensus is deceptive: behind the ringing declarations lie fundamental fissures over the value and application of these concepts. Understanding and addressing these divisions is crucial to ensuring that the four principles become fully embedded in international development work.
 
Ebola communication: What we've learned so far
Devex
This week, a World Health Organization infectious diseases expert reported the death rate due to Ebola in West Africa has now climbed to 70 percent, higher than previous estimates. And by December, new cases could hit 10,000 a week. For front-line medical workers, the projections couldn’t be grimmer. They are overwhelmed and their numbers are dwindling — Médecins Sans Frontières has already lost nine staff members to the epidemic — but reinforcements remain sparse. For organizations involved in communication and awareness-raising campaigns, meanwhile, this situation means they need to be more aggressive and robust, and their messaging fool-proof.  We know many of them are on the ground, conducting door-to-door campaigns and spot radio announcements, putting up posters and distributing pamphlets to inform communities about the disease. Some have even resorted to using megaphones to reach people who choose to remain indoors, conduct skits in schools and communities via youth drama troupes. A few aid groups are even considering perceived viral forms of communication like music and video messaging led by former football player and now UNICEF ambassador David Beckham.  But are these campaigns actually working? Will the new plans be effective?
 

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