In This Review

Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic
Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic
By Paul Richards
Zed Books, 2016, 300 pp

In 2013, when the Ebola epidemic broke out in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, many issued grim predictions about its likely impact, as it was widely believed that these desperately poor countries lacked the health-care infrastructure necessary to contain the highly infectious virus. Thankfully, the worst fears were not realized, as a large international effort helped to eventually halt the spread of the disease, although not before more than 11,000 people had died. In this provocative book, Richards argues that the international response may actually have extended the epidemic’s duration, as it offered no medical solution (no cure or vaccine is yet available) and slowed the ability of the affected populations to develop the cultural and behavioral adaptations that were ultimately the key to defeating the virus—for example, changes to practices around care for the ill and burial of the dead. Too often, the well-intentioned international response was shaped by a top-down logic that sought to impose novel practices on people rather than work with them to adapt their existing customs to the new reality.