School of Social and Political Science

Has the Ebola epidemic in West Africa prepared Sierra Leone’s health system for Covid-19?

Sub head

Social anthropologists at the School of Social and Political Science will investigate whether technology-focused responses to the 2014 – 2016 Ebola epidemic in West Africa prepared Sierra Leone’s health system for Covid-19.


Dr Alice Street, with co-investigators at the University of Edinburgh, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and public health institutions in Sierra Leone, will study data examining the role of medical technologies in preparing Sierra Leone for an epidemic. Their findings may support emergency response strategies that feed into long term health systems strengthening.   

The project will use two large qualitative datasets, covering: 

  • Diagnostic systems and laboratory strengthening, using data from DiaDev, an existing global health diagnostics partnership project from the University of Edinburgh and partner institutions.
  • Vaccine trials and delivery using data from EBOVAC-Salone, a research project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, part of the EBOVAC Ebola vaccination project.

The project is supported with £10,000 from the Scottish Funding Council’s Global Challenges Research Fund. 

Collaborating with DiaDev and EBOVAC-Salone 

Dr Street said:

“DiaDev and EBOVAC-Salone have collated a vast resource of interviews and observations relating to the legacy of the West African Ebola epidemic for the development and delivery of key global health technologies and infrastructures.  

“In the spirit of data sharing, collaboration, and rapid publication promoted by the WHO’s COVID-19 Global Research Roadmap, we will harness this data for a rapid-response social science collaboration."


The project will result in a jointly authored academic research paper that brings a social infrastructures framework to bear on epidemic preparedness in Sierra Leone. It will also include a policy brief and a public op-ed/blog piece to maximise dissemination of findings to multiple academic and policy audiences. 

Informing change

Dr Street said:

“Findings have the potential to inform current COVID-19 testing strategies and diagnostic infrastructure development in the region, public messaging and communications, and the design and conduct of COVID-19 related research and trials. 

“As the COVID-19 pandemic expands into Africa, social science has an important role to play in developing a culturally appropriate and socially feasible national and regional response.”