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Abstract

In Rotary’s ad campaign a few years ago, people from Desmond Tutu to Jackie Chan were showing with their hands how close to the end of polio we are. There was even a Gangnam Style version of the ad. The message was that the end is in sight, we are very close and need just one last push to end the disease targeted by a global eradication program. The ad looks great. You stop and look, perhaps even open your purse to contribute to the cause. But at the same time it is also terribly disturbing: what are these people showing us? What is, exactly, the end of polio? And what comes after? Upon closer inspection, these images open broader questions of how we think about epidemics, disease and ‘solving’ a public health problem.
The way we tend to think about diseases, especially in policy-making and in their representations, is within a narrative that comes from epidemics. We talk about an “epidemic” of obesity, of cancer, and further health concerns “plague” our society. Therefore, while various diseases bring up a wide range of different problems to consider, it is important to give epidemics and their narratives a closer look. Using the case of polio eradication in Hungary, I interrogate the ending of an epidemic and place the ‘after’ into the center of analysis. I argue that with this analytical shift, we can gain a more nuanced understanding of what epidemics are, the how we might study them and who and what gets left out of the master narrative of beginning, crisis and end. A focus on endings also highlights the narrative’s shortcomings and the stakes at hand, as epidemic narratives shape global and local health policies.

Forthcoming events

Richard Doll Seminar: Design and analysis of prevalence surveys in low-resource settings

Tuesday, 25 February 2020, 1pm to 2pm @ Richard Doll Lecture Theatre, Richard Doll Building, Old Road Campus, OX3 7LF

WEH/Ethox Seminar

Wednesday, 26 February 2020, 11am to 12.30pm @ Seminar room 0, Big Data Institute, Old Road Campus, OX3 7LF

HERC Seminar: Learning healthcare systems for cost-effective precision oncology.

Thursday, 27 February 2020, 12pm to 1pm @ Seminar room 0, Big Data Institute, Old Road Campus, OX3 7LF

The Global Response to the Novel Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) Outbreak

Thursday, 27 February 2020, 2.30pm to 4pm @ Seminar rooms, Big Data Institute

Richard Doll Seminar: The Risk of Everything – using linked electronic health records to develop and validate risk prediction tools for use in clinical care

Tuesday, 03 March 2020, 1pm to 2pm @ Richard Doll Lecture Theatre, Richard Doll Building, Old Road Campus, OX3 7LF

WEH/Ethox Seminar: Building research capacity through North-South Partnerships: some ethical reflections and a social justice agenda

Wednesday, 04 March 2020, 11am to 12.30pm @ Seminar room 0, Big Data Institute, Old Road Campus, OX3 7LF