Blind spots in global health: Lassa Fever, Science and the making of neglect in Sierra Leone.
Abstract For more than 50 years people in parts of West Africa have lived in the presence of a deadly virus that has symptoms which are similar to Ebola. You may have never heard of Lassa Fever, even though this virus has killed many more people than Ebola and places a huge burden upon health systems in West Africa. Generations of African, North American and European scientists and health workers have tried to fight Lassa Fever, and research and responses to the disease have received substantial investment. Yet the disease remains ‘neglected’; people who live in the region continue to be at risk from Lassa Fever and unlikely to receive good care and treatment in the event of infection. This talk is based on an ongoing collaborative ethnographic book project which argues that, counterintuitively, scientific investments into Lassa Fever have helped to produce the very neglect that they aim to alleviate. I will present examples from fieldwork on laboratory science and ecological science on Lassa fever, and the implications of this work for health systems in order to explore intersections between knowledge production, scientific attention, health infrastructure, and the unintended making of neglect.
Biography I am a social anthropologist with specialisation in medical anthropology. My research interests include: economies and practices of care; governance; the state; nursing; hospitals; global health interventions (especially around HIV/AIDS and viral haemorrhagic fevers); development; community-based health care; and public health.
My current research work centres on zoonotic diseases and epidemic management in West Africa, with a particular focus on Lassa fever and Ebola virus disease. This work builds upon a longstanding interest in issues around care, health governance, and relationships between insitituions, modes of governance and health systems bureaucracies. I have worked extensively in Kenya where I carried out extended fieldwork with health managers in 2011 and in a hospital and community development organisation between 2005-7. My Ph.D. (Manchester, 2010) explored responses to HIV/AIDS in Western Kenya through the modality of care. Following my Ph.D. I spent two years as a research fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine before joining the University of Durham in January 2013.