Epidemiology has always been an interest of mine, partly because of my family’s history in medicine, and partly because of my mother’s work in microbiology. Because I went to a small liberal arts school for my undergraduate degree, there weren’t enough courses available for me to pursue this interest as far as I wanted and it fell by the wayside. Then, during Dr. Stanley’s International Security course in my second semester of the SSP program, we had a one-day introduction to biosecurity and I was immediately struck with the connection that disease and security can share, especially during epidemics and pandemics. After some brainstorming, I came up with the idea of looking into the extremely recent case of this possible connection in Liberia.
This project, in the long term, could help bring more awareness to the extreme lack of public health infrastructure that many countries in the world face. In Liberia, not only was there a dearth of medical personnel before the Ebola outbreak, but many of them were killed during the crisis. To add insult to injury, there is no clinical laboratory in the entire country. Although epidemics like Ebola are frightening and garner international attention, many more people die of endemic and lifestyle diseases than from exotic diseases like Ebola. This is an issue of human security, something harder to define than national security. But if the line between public health and national security is blurred during epidemics, when does the blurring start?
I hope to expand on this research, either through travel in the counties of Liberia or in the other affected countries of West Africa, so that I can use it for my MA thesis. I would eventually like to be involved in helping countries like Liberia gain access to the tools and procedures that positively affect their public health structure. One of the largest lessons I learned in doing both preliminary research and research on the ground, was that contingency planning before such crises break out could have a huge effect on the outcomes. This is knowledge that I believe is valuable to have gained firsthand, and will be helpful when I am looking for employment with companies who work specifically at the intersection of national security and health.