Social science the first line of defense for Ebola

A great article sent to me by Brian Southwell. Robert Wingwall penned a piece on Social Science Space entitled “Ebola: The Human Cost of Neglecting the Social Sciences”.

Wingwall argues that social science will always be the first line of defense for epidemics, even before biomedical science, because social science is needed to understand the culture and values of a population to help break the movement of disease through the population. 

Great work has been done building hospitals in West Africa to treat Ebola but less work has been done building the community relations with tribes and populations to help them with stopping Ebola.

Community engagement is critical because it has become clear that traditional contact tracing is not acceptable in a population that is, rightly, suspicious of anyone perceived as agents of states that they have no reason to trust.

People must for themselves discover the value of medical services and treatment:

Ebola will only be contained by voluntary actions, by people presenting themselves for treatment or segregating themselves from their neighbours.

Wingwall says “Ebola has been fitted into a colonial narrative where we have to rescue the benighted heathen with our superior technology" 

The Ebola epidemic further speaks to the value of social science:

Politicians who ask what the point of the social sciences might be are sometimes right to do so. However, there are also times when the social sciences matter immensely. Newly emerging infectious diseases, epidemics and pandemics are prime examples. On their own, biomedical sciences can achieve only limited impact.