Bardosh KL, de Vries DH, Abramowitz S, Thorlie A, Cremers L, Kinsman J, Stellmach D
Global Health 16 (1) 120 [2020-12-30; online 2020-12-30]
The importance of integrating the social sciences in epidemic preparedness and response has become a common feature of infectious disease policy and practice debates. However to date, this integration remains inadequate, fragmented and under-funded, with limited reach and small initial investments. Based on data collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, in this paper we analysed the variety of knowledge, infrastructure and funding gaps that hinder the full integration of the social sciences in epidemics and present a strategic framework for addressing them. Senior social scientists with expertise in public health emergencies facilitated expert deliberations, and conducted 75 key informant interviews, a consultation with 20 expert social scientists from Africa, Asia and Europe, 2 focus groups and a literature review of 128 identified high-priority peer reviewed articles. We also analysed 56 interviews from the Ebola 100 project, collected just after the West African Ebola epidemic. Analysis was conducted on gaps and recommendations. These were inductively classified according to various themes during two group prioritization exercises. The project was conducted between February and May 2019. Findings from the report were used to inform strategic prioritization of global investments in social science capacities for health emergencies. Our analysis consolidated 12 knowledge and infrastructure gaps and 38 recommendations from an initial list of 600 gaps and 220 recommendations. In developing our framework, we clustered these into three areas: 1) Recommendations to improve core social science response capacities, including investments in: human resources within response agencies; the creation of social science data analysis capacities at field and global level; mechanisms for operationalizing knowledge; and a set of rapid deployment infrastructures; 2) Recommendations to strengthen applied and basic social sciences, including the need to: better define the social science agenda and core competencies; support innovative interdisciplinary science; make concerted investments in developing field ready tools and building the evidence-base; and develop codes of conduct; and 3) Recommendations for a supportive social science ecosystem, including: the essential foundational investments in institutional development; training and capacity building; awareness-raising activities with allied disciplines; and lastly, support for a community of practice. Comprehensively integrating social science into the epidemic preparedness and response architecture demands multifaceted investments on par with allied disciplines, such as epidemiology and virology. Building core capacities and competencies should occur at multiple levels, grounded in country-led capacity building. Social science should not be a parallel system, nor should it be "siloed" into risk communication and community engagement. Rather, it should be integrated across existing systems and networks, and deploy interdisciplinary knowledge "transversally" across all preparedness and response sectors and pillars. Future work should update this framework to account for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the institutional landscape.