This article examines how populations affected by the Ebola epidemic in Liberia reacted to the implementation of mandatory, state-imposed quarantine as a way of curtailing transmission. The ethnography, based on in-depth fieldwork in both urban and rural areas, shows how mandatory quarantine caused severe social consequences for both people’s perceptions of epidemic control and their health-seeking behaviours. The authoritarian imposition of this public-health measure soon became a driver of social fear that contributed to the divide between institutions and population, jeopardising the control of transmission. Its implementation overshadowed more acceptable local quarantine measures that communities were organising to protect themselves from transmission. The analysis argues that quarantine in Liberia was counterproductive and suggests alternatives to epidemic control rooted in social acceptance and local practices.
How Liberians Responded to the Ebola Epidemic Containment Measures
Case Studies from West Africa
Emilie Venables and Umberto Pellecchia
The articles in this special issue demonstrate, through ethnographic fieldwork and observations, how anthropologists and the methodological tools of their discipline became a means of understanding the Ebola outbreak in West Africa during 2014 and 2015. The examples, from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, show how anthropologists were involved in the Ebola outbreak at different points during the crisis and the contributions their work made. Discussing issues including health promotion, gender, quarantine and Ebola survivors, the authors show the diverse roles played by anthropologists and the different ways in which they made use of the tools of their discipline. The case studies draw upon the ethical, methodological and logistical challenges of conducting fieldwork during a crisis such as this one and offer reflections upon the role of anthropology in this context.