Science - August 14, 2014

Researchers left Ebola region in time

Rob Ramaker

Wageningen development economists have had to put their research on hold because of the Ebola epidemic. Two researchers managed to leave the affected area in time, reports Maarten Voors, associate professor of Development Economics.

A medical assistant in protective clothing being disinfected. Photo: European Commission

The Wageningers were doing research on the impact of development programmes in the border region of Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Liberia when the Ebola epidemic struck there at the beginning of June. A first assessment makes clear that the risks for the researchers were limited. ‘They have a strong immune system, are very well informed, and are not likely to go to places where there are Ebola patients,’ says Voors. Nevertheless, he decided not to take any risks at all and to call the PhD and Master’s students back to the Netherlands in June. The local assistant and colleagues at Njala University put their field work on hold too. In retrospect that seems a wise decision: the research area is at the centre of the area where 1850 people have been infected with the disease and 1013 have died since this outbreak started. This makes it the most serious outbreak ever. The army has now closed off the region in an attempt to stem the progress of the virus.

For the time being, the research project is at a standstill, and Voors thinks it could take months before it can be resumed. Instead, the researchers are looking into the possibilities for helping to combat the disease. ‘Perhaps we could use our knowledge to show how local customs contribute to the spread of the disease,’ suggests Voors.