The Harvard University Center for African Studies convened a unique panel discussion on the Ebola epidemic that delved into critical, yet less well-understood, aspects of the crisis by approaching the topic across disciplines. Medical specialists discussed the clinical, research, and public health aspects of the disease with an historian and a media expert. Together, these diverse panelists came to unique and concerning conclusions about the likely scenarios for ending the present epidemic, as well as future ones. By combining the findings and approaches of these very different disciplines, a major global health crisis comes into sharper, and ultimately more alarming, perspective.
Featured speakers included Harvard historian, Professor Emmanuel Akyeampong, who spoke on the history of epidemics in West Africa and the critical cultural factors impacting local responses; HSPH Professor Jennifer Leaning who analyzed several of the unique features of the Ebola pathogen, and why it is so difficult to contain; and Patrick Vinck, visiting scientist in HSPH, who put the epidemic in political and economic perspective while explaining how mobile technology innovations were being explored for the first time in this epidemic. Kristian Andersen, from the world-renowned Sabeti Lab at the Broad Institute, recounted his experiences in Guinea, where he went to obtain samples of the virus after the first case was diagnosed – importantly, the work of his lab aided in tracing the virus back to the original cases and understanding its ability to mutate. Maggie Koerth-Baker, Science Editor at Boing Boing and a monthly columnist for The New York Times Magazine, explained why US-based coverage of the epidemic was full of so many inaccuracies, and how the media coverage then shapes the public and policy responses to the crisis.