Q&A: How building community trust helps combat epidemics

Copyright: Samuel Aranda / Panos

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Public health responses to the Ebola crisis neglected to build trust among affected people, and more must be done to engage with the ‘human factor’ when disease outbreaks occur, anthropologist Heidi Larson warns in this audio interview.
Larson, director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom, says crisis response programmes must address public fears around disease.
  One critical lesson to emerge from the Ebola epidemic, she says, is that failing to focus on communication and trust-building with communities early on can lead to heightened fears and misinformation that jeopardises safety and helps a disease spread. 

  Heidi Larson and her team will shortly be travelling to Sierra Leone where they will be leading the communication strategy for the third of the main Ebola vaccine trials. Here she explains what this process involves and outlines some of the main fears that people tend to have around vaccines.  


  Social scientists and medical experts need to work hand-in-hand to devise responses, Larson says, because “a public health or medical expert and an anthropologist will look at the same situation and notice very different things”.
  The interview was recorded at ‘Ebola – The 21st-century plague?’, a conference at the Royal Society of Medicine, United Kingdom, on 6 February.