cover image Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic

Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic

Paul Richards. Zed, $24.95 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-78360-858-4

Richards (No Peace, No War), emeritus professor of technology and agrarian development at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, adopts an anthropological approach to analyzing Upper West Africa’s deadly Ebola virus outbreak in 2014 and the success in containing its spread. He concentrates on local efforts that understood customs and culture—suggesting, albeit controversially, that “better-functioning health systems” in that region “might only have made the epidemic worse.” Here, Richards finds that the initial response by international experts to an outbreak in 2013 in Guinea erred by focusing on bush meat when it later became clear that one of the drivers of the epidemic’s spread was “participation in large funerals,” a regional custom that involved secret societies. Disease containment succeeded because of “people’s science,” which Richards describes as the shared knowledge and cooperation of local communities and international medical responders. And what the outbreak in Upper West Africa revealed was “an unexpected capacity for communities and responders rapidly to figure out jointly the nature of the infection threat, and then to respond practically.” This examination is a scholarly exercise that will appeal to medical and health policy academics, but Richards convincingly argues the broader lesson for containing future epidemics should always be a response embracing “common sense, improvisation, distributed practical knowledge, and collective action.” (Oct.)