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Lessons from the West Africa Ebola epidemic: A systematic review of epidemiological and social and behavioral science research priorities

This systematic literature review compared the epidemiological (EPI) research and the qualitative social and behavioral science (SBS) research published during the West Africa Ebola virus disease (EVD) epidemic. Beginning with an initial capture of over 2000 articles, we extracted 236 EPI and 171 SBS studies to examine how disciplinary priorities affected research conducted during the EVD response, with implications for epidemic response effectiveness. Building on this research, we set forth a roadmap for the closer integration of EPI and SBS research in all aspects of epidemic preparedness and response that incorporates the lessons of the West Africa EVD outbreak. Key priorities include the following: (1) developing the capacity to systematically quantify qualitative sociocultural variables; (2) establishing interdisciplinary collaborations to improve “risk segmentation” practices; (3) creating and prepositioning qualitative indicators and composite sociocultural indexes for rapid deployment in outbreaks; (4) integrating novel systems with community resources; (5) developing new techniques for modeling social mobilization and community engagement; (6) prioritizing good data and complex analyses early in emergencies; and (7) learning from past experiences. Our findings support a program of action that situates data collection and analysis in real-time, recursive, integrated efforts to move community attitudes, behaviors, and responses into epidemiological research. We offer recommendations to improve coordinated, multidisciplinary approaches to health emergencies.

Geography: West Africa
Reference: Abramowitz, S., Hipgrave, D., Witchard, A. and Heymann, D. (2018). Lessons from the West Africa Ebola Epidemic: A Systematic Review of Epidemiological and Social and Behavioral Science Research Priorities. The Journal of Infectious Diseases.