Ebola has taken over media as an international health concern in 2014. With questions mounting over whether Ebola will become widespread and how to contain the disease, it is time to bridge the gap between the natural and social sciences. More specifically, it is essential to integrate research in key areas such as public health and epidemiology with key information in fields such as anthropology.
My first encounter with a story that expressed the bridge between the Ebola outbreak and anthropologists was in NPR publication, “The Experts The Ebola Response May Need: Anthropologists”. In the article, NPR staff point out that anthropologists may be key in addressing the Ebola outbreak, given their knowledge of local traditions as related to the spread of the disease, as well as the understanding of how fear plays a role in the epidemic.
In this post, I suggest that anthropology does not stop short of providing assistance in the realm of knowledge of local customs or fears of Ebola – anthropologists provide a wealth of knowledge through the use of ethnographic research and observation that is key to addressing a number of issues, Ebola included.
The reality is that in many cases, through in-depth understanding and wholistic studies, anthropologists are aware of potential widespread issues, whether they be social, political, or public health concerns, well before others in separate fields. The Ebola outbreaks acts as no exception.
Aside from providing an anthropological analysis of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, a more direct message must be expressed: Ebola not only represents a failure of a number of health systems and the weakness of the international community in responding to global health issues. The 2014 Ebola outbreak represents the failure to address the desperate need to find cross-disciplinary solutions to global issues.
Anthropology is unique in that it provides an understanding of groups, interactions, phenomenon, ideas, and a number of other factors that are encompassed in the “study of mankind”. The gap between social and natural sciences must be bridged to provide for the free-flow of knowledge across fields. As we recognize the need for sustainable solutions, “sustainability” must become synonymous with “cross-disciplinary”.
Suggested Reading: “Notes from Case Zero: Anthropology in the time of Ebola“; “Ebola in Perspective“