The Bloomsbury Colleges | PhD Studentships | Studentships 2017 | mediating public health messaging during the Ebols Crisis in Sierra Leone
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Mediating Public Health messaging during the Ebola Crisis in Sierra Leone

Principal supervisor: Professor Paul Basu (SOAS)

Co-supervisor: Professor Melissa Parker (LSHTM)

This project is concerned with public health messaging during the recent Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone. A key tension to emerge during the outbreak was at the interface between international health agencies and local populations. This was exacerbated by failures of communication, which often took the top-down, unidirectional form of international experts ‘educating’ local populations about infection control, rather than more dialogical approaches based on knowledge exchange.

In 2014, the Government of Sierra Leone published a National Communication Strategy for Ebola Response, which included setting up a ‘Messaging and Dissemination’ sub-committee. Attempting to learn from mistakes made early on in the outbreak, this acknowledged the need to engage effectively with different community groups to counter the spread of ‘rumours, myths, misconceptions and misinformation’.

The project seeks to investigate ethnographically approaches to ‘messaging and dissemination’, and the processes through which the knowledge and discourse of external experts was translated into locally-meaningful messages using local communication media (including murals, banners, posters, radio, music, etc.). As well as documenting such materials, the project asks how such messaging was perceived by communities in Sierra Leone, and to what degree these approaches succeeded in dispelling ‘rumours, myths and misconceptions’.

The project considers how lessons learned during the Ebola epidemic are informing initiatives intended to strengthen preparedness for possible future health crises. In particular the project will engage with the National Ebola Museum being established at Njala University, where an archive of materials and oral testimonies is being assembled.

It is anticipated that the methodology will be broadly ethnographic, but the project will also employ interdisciplinary approaches drawn from media/communication studies and public health. It is envisaged that the research will be at least partly based at the National Ebola Museum and that the student will assemble materials that will be deposited at the Museum, as well as working with the existing archive. Research will be conducted with a range of communities throughout Sierra Leone, as well as with individuals directly involved in mediating messages as part of the Ebola response.

Candidate Requirements:

Candidates should have a strong academic track record including a Master’s degree in anthropology (or an anthropological subfield such as media anthropology, medical anthropology or visual anthropology). The studentship would suit candidates with interests across anthropology, public health, media, and global processes, and particularly those with an interest in West African visual culture and popular community media. Previous experience in West Africa would be advantageous.

In addition to research methods training, the successful candidate will be encouraged to take advantage of relevant courses available at both SOAS and LSHTM, including Culture and Society of West Africa, Comparative Media Theory, Health Promotion Approaches and Methods, and Medical Anthropology and Public Health modules. Language training is also available.

Due to funding restrictions, this studentship is only open to candidates classified as ‘Home/EU’ student for fee purposes.

Key References:

[1] Chandler C., J. Fairhead, A. Kelly, M. Leach, F. Martineau, E. Mokuwa, M. Parker, P. Richards & A. Wilkinson. 2015. ‘Ebola: Limitations of Correcting Misinformation’, The Lancet 385: 1275-6.

[2] Janes, C. R. & K. K. Corbett. 2009. ‘Anthropology and Global Health’, Annual Review of Anthropology 38: 167-83.

[3] Richards, P. 2016. Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic. London: Zed.

[4] Wasserman, H. (ed.) 2011. Popular Media, Democracy and Development in Africa. London: Routledge.

[5] Wilkinson, A. & J. Fairhead. 2016. ‘Comparison of Social Resistance to Ebola Response in Sierra Leone and Guinea Suggests Explanations Lie in Political Configurations not Culture’, Critical Public Health

Further details about the project may be obtained from:

Principal supervisor: Professor Paul Basu (

Co-supervisor: Professor Melissa Parker (

Further information about the PhD programme in the Department of Anthropology, SOAS is available from:

Application forms and details about how to apply are available from:

Candidates wishing to apply for this fully funded three-year, full-time PhD studentship starting September 2017 must complete both an admissions application and a studentship application. These are separate processes.

STEP 1: Admissions Application

Apply for the SOAS +3 MPhil/PhD programme in Anthropology (full time) using SOAS’s online admissions form. See for information and ‘Apply Online’ link.

Applicants must submit a complete online application for admission as soon as possible and no later than the studentship deadline (17:00 UK time, 15 February 2017).

Further guidance for applying for admission to the MPhil/PhD programme is available at

IMPORTANT: Please state in the admissions application that you wish to be considered for the Bloomsbury  Colleges PhD Studentship, use the title of the studentship (Mediating Public Health Messaging during the Ebola Crisis in Sierra Leone) as your Research Proposal Title and state Professor Paul Basu as your Proposed Supervisor.

Use your Supporting Statement to explain why you are motivated to apply for this particular project, and what skills and experience you will bring to the project. In your 2,000 word Research Proposal please respond to the project description and elaborate on how you would approach the project theoretically and methodologically based on your previous academic training and experience.

Please note that applicants to the +3 MPhil/PhD programme in Anthropology are expected to have an existing Masters-level degree in anthropology (or relevant sub-field).

STEP 2: Studentship Application

Apply for the Bloomsbury Colleges Studentship by completing and submitting the application form to by no later than 15 February 2017 (17:00 UK time).

Applicants should use the same Supporting Statement, Research Proposal and CV that they are submitting as part of their admissions application.

It is recommended that candidates interested in applying for this studentship contact Professor Paul Basu at prior to completing the application forms.

Closing date for applications is:

15 February 2017 (17:00 UK time)