Lassa fever: The politics of an emerging disease and the scope for One Health

Working Paper
  • Published 11/03/15
  • ISBN: 978-1-78118-224-6

STEPS Working Paper 83

This paper explores the politics of knowledge and disease control for Lassa fever, a zoonotic viral haemorrhagic fever which is endemic in parts of West Africa. The Lassa virus has been classified as a Category A pathogen, meaning it is considered to be one of the world’s most dangerous organisms and a potential bioweapon. Unusually for a Category A pathogen it also causes endemic human disease with public health implications.

As a rodent-borne virus, Lassa fever is of interest to One Health. The interplay between security, public health and One Health perspectives are explored in Kenema, Sierra Leone, a long-term treatment and research hub. Running through policy processes are institutionalised responses to uncertainty which have privileged certain types of evidence leading to significant gains in laboratory and technology-based interventions. In securitisation debates public health priorities are often judged to be undermined. However this case shows that animal, human and environment interactions, and their socio-economic dynamics, have been marginalised on both national and international levels by political economies of knowledge and policy which tend to overlook the needs and perspectives of poor and rural populations.