Siân Aggett speaks to Dr Elizabeth Smout, Dr Luisa Enria and Thomas Mooney


The 2014–2016 West African Ebola epidemic saw clinical trials being fast-tracked so that preventative vaccines and experimental treatments could be researched rapidly within the context of the outbreak. The EBOVAC-Salone study, led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, was one such trial, to assess the safety and efficacy of a particular vaccine. It took place in Kambia district in Northern Sierra Leone.

There were some unique challenges to conducting this work associated with a rapidly changing context in which there were a great many actors and where emotions ran high. Social research, communications and community engagement were seen as central to enabling the trial to take place ethically and in a way that was acceptable to people living in the region.

Dr Elizabeth Smout led the community engagement for the EBOVAC- Salone trial, along with the lead social researcher Dr Luisa Enria and communications manager Thomas Mooney. In this podcast, they come together to speak about their experiences and share some of their lessons learned.

A key lesson for the teams was that whilst it is important to capitalise on each other’s efforts and knowledge, clearly delineating roles was helpful in enabling each team to take up an appropriate position within the local community. For example, enabling social researchers to be free to listen to and understand community perspectives without also having the onus of delivering messages themselves. However they are able to feed any concerns, such as of emerging rumours, to the communications and engagement staff, who are then able to act accordingly.

What is evident in conversation with Elizabeth, Luisa and Tom, is their strong concern for ethical research practice. This drove them to be responsive and adaptive in their programme strategies. In turn, this ensured that messages and engagement approaches were well designed for establishing rapport and meaningful interaction with members of the research population and other local actors.

To learn more about this work, read the following papers:

EBOVAC-Salone: Lessons learned from implementing an Ebola vaccine trial in an Ebola-affected country

Power, fairness and trust: understanding and engaging with vaccine trial participants and communities in setting up the EBOVAC-Salone vaccine trial in Sierra Leone

“We are the heroes because we are ready to die for this country”: Participants’ decision-making and grounded ethics in an Ebola vaccine clinical trial


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