Power, Participation and their Problems: a Consideration of Power Dynamics in the Use of Participatory Epidemiology for One Health and Zoonoses Research
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The use of Participatory Epidemiology in veterinary research intends to include livestock keepers and other local stakeholders in research processes and the development of solutions to animal health problems, including potentially zoonotic diseases. It can also be an attempt to bring some of the methods and insights of social science into a discipline largely shaped by natural science methods and ways of seeing the world. The introduction of participatory methodologies to veterinary epidemiology and disease surveillance follows a wider movement in development thinking, questioning the top-down nature of much post-second world war development efforts directed from the Global North towards the Global South. In the best cases, participatory methods can help to empower the poor and marginalised to participate in and have some control over research and interventions which affect them. Compiled from experience in multi-disciplinary One Health projects, this paper briefly traces the rise of participatory epidemiology before examining some of the limitations observed in its implementation and steps that might be taken to alleviate the problems observed. The three areas in which the operationalisation of Participatory Epidemiology in veterinary and One Health research could be improved are identified as: broadening the focus of engagement with communities beyond quantitative data extraction; taking note of the wider power structures in which research takes place, and questioning who speaks for a community when participatory methods are used. In particular, the focus falls on how researchers from different disciplines, including veterinary medicine and the social sciences, can work together to ensure that participatory epidemiology is employed in such a way that it improves the quality of life of both people and animals around the world.