Understanding the social and economic dimensions of epidemic disease outbreaks

My research on epidemics takes the 2014-20 Ebola outbreaks in the Equateur and Tshuapa provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo as its empirical focus. It pursues three lines of inquiry. The first centers on the political economy of Ebola and on what has come to be known as ‘Ebola Business’: conspiracy theories that Ebola has been manufactured so that local and national politicians, rebel leaders and humanitarians can profit from the millions of dollars spent on the response. 


The second line of enquiry emerges from a collaborative project with anthropologists and public health scholars based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, examining facilitators and barriers to vaccine deployment during disease outbreaks. I examine local perceptions of the experimental Ebola vaccine (deployed under a ‘compassionate use protocol’ in the 2018 Equateur outbreak). The project aims to provide new empirical evidence that can contribute to a broader understanding of vaccine introduction during emergency response.


The final line of enquiry results from a collaboration with epidemiologists based at Wilfrid Laurier University and the School of Public Health in Kinshasa, DRC. Based on qualitative research with health care workers, patients and policy makers in the immediate aftermath of the 2018 Ebola outbreak in Equateur Province, we are examining the social, health and economic impacts of the national free healthcare policy during the epidemic, including issues with communication, implementation, health infrastructures and corruption that may have negatively impacted the policy’s effectiveness.

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© 2017 Alcayna-Stevens

Photograph of an outbuilding painted to educate people on the importance of handwashing to protect oneself against Ebola infection, in the grounds of a general hospital in Tshuapa province