Epidemics: pathways of disease and response

Project dates: 2006-2011

Epidemics emerge from changes in behaviour, land use, and interactions between humans and animals. Drawing on a series of cases, this project aimed to understand these interactions, and explore how to address epidemics in ways that support, rather than compromise, the livelihood needs of poorer people – and wider principles of social justice.  The project ran from 2006-2011.

The project addressed:

  • the dynamics of epidemics, and how they are framed by different groups of scientists, policy-makers and the public
  • the ways that panics and scares over epidemics are generated and dealt with, and the relationships between disease, political economy and security
  • the ways that citizens’ own perspectives and popular epidemiology could become part of more deliberative, inclusive responses.

Books in the Pathways to Sustainability series

Epidemics: Science, Governance and Social Justice, edited by Sarah Dry and Melissa Leach
Recent disease events such as SARS, H1N1 and avian influenza, and haemorrhagic fevers have focussed policy and public concern as never before on epidemics and so-called ’emerging infectious diseases’. Understanding and responding to these often unpredictable events have become major challenges for local, national and international bodies. All too often, responses can become restricted by implicit assumptions about who or what is to blame that may not capture the dynamics and uncertainties at play in the multi-scale interactions of people, animals and microbes.

Avian Influenza: Science, Policy and Politics, edited by Ian Scoones
This book explores how virus genetics, ecology and epidemiology intersect with economic, political and policy processes in a variety of places – from Bangkok to Washington, to Jakarta, Cairo, Rome and London. It focuses on the interaction of the international and national responses – and in particular the experiences of Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand. It asks how effective is the disease surveillance and response system – can it respond to a new pandemic threat?


Changing patterns of land use, interactions between humans, livestock and wildlife and new patterns of social behaviour have seen the emergence of a series of new infectious diseases that now threaten to reverse post-war progress towards improved global public health.

While TB, HIV-AIDS and malaria receive the most policy attention, ‘old’ diseases of lower respiratory tract infection and diarrhoea remain the major killers, they are being joined by both new diseases such as SARS, avian flu and BSE, and modified versions of existing diseases.

Diseases emerge from changing landscape-livelihood interactions in relation to drug resistance, genetic changes in pathogens and zoonosis, as new farming practices, increased mobility and increasingly intensive food, water and social systems allow new evolutionary niches to form.

This project links to our project on avian flu.

STEPS members working on this project

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