Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

The nature and question of how global health emergencies are declared to be ‘over’ is the focus of a multi-million-pound research project launching this week.

After the End will critically examine the way in which people around the world have experienced the declared ‘ending’ of pandemics and epidemics such as COVID and Ebola.

Funded by a grant of more than £8m from the Wellcome Trust, the eight-year project will capture the lived experiences of people from the UK, Sierra Leone, Brazil and China – some of whom continue to endure the impacts of such health crises.

After the End is being coordinated by the Ethox Centre, University of Oxford, in collaboration with the University of Exeter and other higher education institutions.

“In this project, we aim to rethink categories that shape responses to health crises and which impact people’s lives,” says Professor Dora Vargha, co-investigator at the Department of Archaeology and History. “Where does an epidemic end, what comes after, and who is left out of that ending? By placing the ‘after’ in focus, we can ask new questions and see what might have been forgotten, erased or lost after a disease is no longer a priority or a part of everyday experience.”

The project leaders say that examples such as Ebola being declared ‘over’ on 14 occasions between 2018 and 2020, and COVID-19 being downgraded from its status as a ‘public health emergency of international concern’ despite it still circulating widely demonstrate the gap between official declarations and the reality experienced by people.

Professor Vargha, working with fellow co-investigator Professor Laura Salisbury, of the Department of English and Creative Writing, will lead one of the four workstreams focusing on the concept of ‘end and endings’ and will seek to provide some context for the project. Together, they will analyse historical, cultural and literary accounts, working in national archives and conducting oral history interviews.

The project will also focus upon the lived experiences of life after the end of global health emergencies in countries such as Sierra Leone and China to establish how endings can be better determined and understood. By examining the legal, social, psychological, ethical and historical determinants of endings, the team will look to develop new frameworks for endings which they hope will produce fairer and more equitable futures for all affected.

The partners in the project include the University of Sierra Leone, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the Anis Instituto de Bioetica, Brazil, the University of Warwick and Liverpool John Moores University.

Professor Salisbury said: “This is a groundbreaking collaboration that brings together multiple disciplines to record and study lived experiences and cultural representations of ‘the after’. Our hope is that through our interdisciplinary work, we can better understand how cultural narratives of ending shape global health policy, and how health authorities might better prepare for and manage crises in ways that do justice to the complexity of lived experience.”

More information about the project and the research team can be found on its website at Squarespace.