What is the Societal Impact of Infectious Disease?

There is no question that COVID-19 will have a profound and lasting impact on the world as we know it. For most of us, the pandemic is as unprecedented as it is distressing. I have a strong visceral image when I think of the current state of affairs – it is as if an unwelcome, shadowy presence has resolutely taken a seat at the head of the table, and is refusing to leave.

We are clearly not the first generation to witness the societal fallout of a devastating infectious disease, nor will we be the last. It feels to me that this pandemic has affected every area of our lives, but I often wonder how accurate this interpretation is. How can one measure the social, economic and political consequences of this virus? Is there really a ‘before’ and ‘after’ COVID-19, or are we simply repeating history? And how does the impact of the current pandemic compare with other infectious diseases – throughout time, or across different geographies or groups of people?

New seminar series

These questions both complement and contextualise the many scientific discussions which have taken place at EMBL since this pandemic emerged, and they provide insight into the ethical, legal, and social implications of scientific research into infectious diseases.

In light of this, the Science & Society Programme is launching a special seminar series, “Infectious Disease and Society” to explore these issues through the lens of the life sciences. The series will consider the scientific and societal impact of infectious diseases, examining not only the COVID-19 pandemic from a number of angles, but also other infectious diseases such as salmonella and malaria. The first six of these talks are outlined below, and the page will be frequently updated with new seminars over the coming months.

Infectious Disease & Society: Seminars 

As the Science & Society Programme has explored the issue of infectious disease many times over the years, we are staggering the re-release of a select number of related talks from our archive. We will also complement these previous talks with a series of new virtual lectures, reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Selected talks from the archive:

The links below will transfer you to our Mediasite catalogue, where you are able to revisit these talks in your own time.

1) “Why have we not been able to eradicate Malaria’ – Prof. Dr. Friedrich Frischknecht, Department of Parasitology, Hygiene Institute, Heidelberg University School of Medicine [recorded May 2014]

2) “The open source outbreak: how can data prevent the next pandemic?”-  Jennifer Gardy, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Deputy Director of Surveillance, Data and Epidemiology (formerly of BC Centre for Disease Control, and the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health, where she held the Canada Research Chair in Public Health Genomics) [recorded November 2018]

3) “1918 to 2018: a hundred years of influenza pandemics”- Prof. Kanta Subbarao, Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, Doherty Institute [recorded November 2018]

New infectious disease & society talks:

These new virtual lectures require registration, and are limited to 500 live participants. After the event has taken place, the talks will be added to our Mediasite catalogue, and can be accessed at any time.

1) “International frameworks for infectious disease control: past, present, and future” – Claire Standley, Assistant Research Professor, Center for Global Health Science & Security, Georgetown University Medical Center, Georgetown University [21st August at 14:00 CEST], REGISTER HERE

2) “Salmonella & Society” – Olivia Steele-Mortimer, Deputy Chief of Laboratory of Bacteriology, Chief of Salmonella-Host Cell Interactions Section, NIH Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases [8th September at 16:00 CEST], REGISTER HERE

3) “Livestock, the Global Environment, and COVID-19: a reflection on Livestock Systems before and after the Pandemic” – Alessandra Falcucci, Lead Geographic Information Systems Analyst, Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM), Food & Agricultural Organisation of the UN [11th December at 11:00 CEST], REGISTER HERE

We want to hear from you!

Future Infectious Disease & Society talks will cover a variety of topics – from economics to the environment and beyond. If you have any ideas for future talks as part of this special seminar series, or have any wider feedback about the Science & Society Programme, please email me at lucia.von.bredow@embl.de.

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