Integration of social sciences into health interventions: the Wellcome Trust and the WHO consult Afrique One-ASPIRE

9 June 2017

Since the first Ebola Virus Disease epidemic in West Africa that caused more than 11 000 deaths, the call for integrating social science knowledge into health interventions has reached a new peak. Western States and the WHO in particular were criticized for their late and often inappropriate response by ignoring regional histories of war, local burial rites and culturally-sensitive communication.

In this context, the Wellcome Trust and WHO jointly organized a consultation workshop in London, on the 8th June 2017 on ‘Integrating social science interventions in epidemics and pandemics: evidence and strategies’.

According to Dr Gaya Gamhewage, Manager of Interventions and Guidance at the Infectious Hazard Management Department of the WHO, there is true political intent among stakeholders to systematically integrate social science interventions into risk communication and ground operations more generally. During the daylong meeting at the Wellcome Trust in London, social scientists, practitioners and representatives of the donor community identified research gaps and strategies to address the need for more social science insight.

Drawing on over a decade of inter- and transdisciplinary research, a representative of the consortium Afrique One was invited to share their experience. Under the new grant of Afrique One-ASPIRE, several social science topics are being investigated by a dozen Afrique One-ASPIRE fellows at both at community and intervention level. To name but a few:

  • Local knowledge and perceptions of zoonotic diseases
  • Treatment-seeking practices
  • Socio-cultural factors limiting the use of health services
  • Communities’ human-livestock-wildlife interactions
  • Consumption of animal-source food
  • Involvement of communities in disease reporting (mobile phones)
  • Communication between medical, veterinary and wildlife services
  • Frontline workers’ experience of integrated interventions
  • Identification of cost-effective interventions

Furthermore, in the frame of Afrique One, Dr Kathrin Heitz-Tokpa, Programme Manager of Afrique One-ASPIRE and social anthropologist by training, showed how preparedness for zoonotic diseases can be improved with the One Health approach.

The Wellcome Trust, the main donor of Afrique One-ASPIRE, has shown commitment to further support social science initiatives as part of its work in epidemic preparedness research. One of the recommendations made at the end of the meeting was to systematically include a budget line for social sciences in every budget for both intervention research and field operations. With their longstanding experience, the members of the Afrique One-ASPIRE consortium are well equipped to play a leading role in strengthening the integration of social sciences in health interventions.

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