• Most publications about the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic were not operationally related.
- Operational research studies tend to be published after outbreaks are declared over.
- Additional operational research studies are needed to inform future responses
The 2014-16 West Africa Ebola epidemic was the largest Ebola outbreak on record, and thousands of individuals were involved in the response, including local and national governments as well as numerous philanthropies and other non-governmental organizations. A number of after-action reports and other reviews of the global response to the epidemic routinely pointed out key challenges, including gaps in operational research.
To determine the extent to which operational research studies were conducted during the 2014-16 West Africa Ebola epidemic, we conducted a quantitative analysis of literature published during and immediately after the epidemic. Our goal was to identify the proportion of all Ebola-related publications released regarding the epidemic that addressed operational aspects of the response. We also sought to describe, at a general level, what sorts of studies were published during the epidemic with the goal of increasing understanding of whether additional efforts are needed to encourage the conduct and dissemination of operational studies during future public health crises.
Among the 3,681 publications regarding Ebola published between when the World Health Organization announced the Ebola outbreak in March 2014 and the end of 2017, 109 (3%) were determined to be operational research publications. Among these, 64 (58%) were published after the World Health Organization initially declared the outbreak over on January 14, 2016, reflecting the time delay of sharing operational lessons with the broader preparedness and response community.
Improved sharing of firsthand, operational knowledge from practitioners who respond to outbreaks is critical for improving preparedness activities and informing the development of sound, effective policies that support ongoing and future preparedness efforts. Based on the results from this review, we propose several policy and programmatic innovations that can facilitate knowledge sharing during future outbreaks.