The growth of social precarity - particularly in the Global South - has meant that those living in informal settlements typically face a wide range of threats on a day-to-day basis due to the lack of basic welfare, social services and infrastructure, normally provided by the state. In the relative absence of formal infrastructures, people informally forge their own connections, capacities and opportunities so that they are able to access the social support they require when needed. Recognizing this trend, this paper argues that there is a greater need for epidemic program planners to recognize and leverage the potential social infrastructure of informal communities and self-governance mechanisms during a disease epidemic. This need highlights the importance of tapping into already existing networks of social capital that can be readily mobilized during an epidemic to achieve a more rapid response. The empirical basis of our arguments draws primarily on qualitative research in informal settlements of Freetown, Sierra Leone and Monrovia, Liberia, following the 2014–16 Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreaks. Our research reveals that distrust in government and inadequacies in the official response were identified as primary factors accounting for the severity of the EVD outbreaks in informal settlements. Overall, the research stresses the importance of adopting community-based approaches to infectious disease response that explicitly builds on context-specific knowledge pertaining to locally-based informal social arrangements, governance mechanisms and the local political history in which the informal settlement is embedded.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada, grant number 108967-001.
We gratefully acknowledge the work of members of the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre (SLURC) and the Community-Based Intitiative-Liberia in this project. We are also grateful to the many members of the communities in both Freetown and Monrovia who gave generously of their time to be interviewed and participate in focus groups. This research was funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada, grant number 108967-001.
- infectious disease
- informal settlements
- social infrastructure
- West Africa