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Int J Health Serv. 2016;46(1):149-65. doi: 10.1177/0020731415611644. Epub 2015 Nov 17.

Did Neoliberalizing West African Forests Produce a New Niche for Ebola?

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Institute for Global Studies, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA
The Royal Veterinary College, University of London, Hatfield, UK.
Department of Geography, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.
Université Libre de Bruxelles, Bruxelles, Belgium.
Centre for Infectious Disease Control, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, Bilthoven, The Netherlands.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.
Division of Epidemiology, The New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, NY, USA.


A recent study introduced a vaccine that controls Ebola Makona, the Zaire ebolavirus variant that has infected 28,000 people in West Africa. We propose that even such successful advances are insufficient for many emergent diseases. We review work hypothesizing that Makona, phenotypically similar to much smaller outbreaks, emerged out of shifts in land use brought about by neoliberal economics. The epidemiological consequences demand a new science that explicitly addresses the foundational processes underlying multispecies health, including the deep-time histories, cultural infrastructure, and global economic geographies driving disease emergence. The approach, for instance, reverses the standard public health practice of segregating emergency responses and the structural context from which outbreaks originate. In Ebola's case, regional neoliberalism may affix the stochastic "friction" of ecological relationships imposed by the forest across populations, which, when above a threshold, keeps the virus from lining up transmission above replacement. Export-led logging, mining, and intensive agriculture may depress such functional noise, permitting novel spillovers larger forces of infection. Mature outbreaks, meanwhile, can continue to circulate even in the face of efficient vaccines. More research on these integral explanations is required, but the narrow albeit welcome success of the vaccine may be used to limit support of such a program.


Ebola; Structural One Health; ecological stochasticity; neoliberalism; vaccine

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