Ineffective Responses to Unlikely Outbreaks: Hypothesis Building in Newly-Emerging Infectious Disease Outbreaks

Dr Freya Jephcott

Over the last 30 years there has been significant investment in both research and infrastructure aimed at mitigating the threat of newly-emerging infectious diseases (N-EID). Core epidemiological processes, such as outbreak investigations, however, have received little attention and as such have proceeded largely unchecked and unimproved. In this talk I will discuss processes of hypothesis building in investigations of suspected N-EID outbreaks in sub-Saharan Africa. Using primary material from investigations into cryptic outbreaks in Ghana, Australia, and Ethiopia, I will trace processes of hypothesis building and their relationship to the organisational structures of the response. I will demonstrate how commonly recurring features of N-EID investigations produce selective pressures in hypothesis building that favour iterations of pre-existing, ‘exciting’ hypotheses and inhibit the pursuit of alternative hypotheses, regardless of relative likelihood. Many of the shortcomings in hypothesis building I will discuss are evident in the initial, flawed response to the current COVID outbreak, highlighting the need for greater scrutiny of core epidemiological processes.

Join us for the talk: https://youtu.be/q1WHZ18hKTc