PHC Epidemics Dinner Discussion


Frank Snowden, PhD
Professor of History and History of Science, Medicine and Public Health

PHC Poster

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014
Silliman Dining Annex

10 students, ranging from senior English majors in the YSPH to sophomore MCDB majors in YC, engaged in thought-provoking discussion, led by Professor Frank Snowden, on epidemics.

Professor Snowden initiated the discussion with an overview of the history of American perception of infectious diseases, and a provocative list of his worries. There was widespread misguided belief in high-tech solutions post-WWII, in eminent eradication of all infectious diseases, and in the Nobel Laureate Paul Ehrlich-popularized magic bullet concept. This series of unfortunate beliefs led not to the eradication of diseases such as malaria, but rather to temporary but detrimental declines in infectious disease study and research. 

The most discussed worries in Professor Snowden's list included the lack of proactive preparation for (rather than retroactive response to) emerging and reemerging disease, the conflict between health as a commodity and health as a human right, and modern media's implication that epidemics are in some ways unexpected and unnatural. Difficult and important questions were raised. What have we learned from the recent ebola situation? How can we incentivize preparation and more funding for the war on disease? As expected, not all questions were answered, because this is a discussion that should not conclude with dinner.

Professor Snowden is a YC Professor of History and of HSHM at Yale for around 25 years, whose research and writing focuses on the history and social impact of epidemic and reemerging infectious diseases, the history of public health and medicine, medical ethics, and European history. His recommended Spring 2015 courses are Epidemics and Western Society Since 1600, and The Global Crisis of Malaria.