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Polygeia at the House of Commons: Lessons from Ebola Affected Communities

Image left to right: Lord Chidgey (chair of Africa APPG), Tom Hird, Samara Linton and Richard Dowden (director of the Royal African Society)

On Wednesday night, at the House of Commons, Polygeia Editors Tom Hird and Samara Linton perfectly demonstrated what that looks like. They joined Lord David Chidgey, Nick Hurd MP and others on a panel presenting and discussing the findings of a joint Polygeia and Africa All Party Parliamentary Group report.

Titled Lessons from Ebola Affected Communities, Polygeia were commissioned by the Africa APPG in February 2015 to commence research for the report, at a time when the end of Ebola was still not in sight.

Although the recent outbreak may now have been successfully contained, the main focus of the report is what we can learn from the crisis to apply to present and future threats such as Zika virus and Lassa Fever. The key theme underlying many of the recommendations is the importance of engaging and empowering communities as a vital part of the strategy in tackling epidemics.

The potential value of Community Empowerment approaches is a not new to Polygeia or unique to this situation: in 2014, Polygeia advocated for community empowerment approaches to tackling endemic Neglected Tropical Diseases.

The evening in Parliament was a great opportunity for Cambridge students, including other members of the team – Maisy Grovestock, Shreya Nanda and Rhys Wenlock. It was also a very public test of the quality of work that Polygeia is able to produce, and one which the team sailed through.

Amongst the positive comments, the report was described as “open and honest” by Lord Chidgey. DFID Minister Nick Hurd said the report was “extremely useful and well-written”.

Kate Muhwezi of Restless Development, who supported community based research for the report, reminded those present that Ebola had been a “stress test for [the affected] healthcare systems – and it failed”.

Looking to the future, Polygeia are interested in exploring ways of implementing calls already made by such influential figures as Bill Gates, to develop a systematic approach to stress-testing health systems in anticipation of crises. Through innovative use of technology and novel approaches to traditional health protection processes, stress tests should not need to be ‘live fire’ exercises where real emergencies threaten regional and global health security.

Samara, Tom and the team have brilliantly captured the valuable lessons to be learned from Ebola. Through engaging and empowering communities to strengthen and test health systems, there is great scope for optimising responses to future crises.

Polygeia would like to thank our team (Samara Linton, Tom Hird, Waqas Haque, Maisy Grovestock, Shreya Nanda, Ben Walker and Rhys Wenlock), Henrietta Bailey and the Africa APPG, Restless Development, the Royal Africa Society and all those who supported the development of the report and attended the launch. A copy of the report can be found here.


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