A community health worker visits a patient

Program in Infectious Disease and Social Change

Mercedes Becerra, ScD, Program Director

Program Background

More than 50 years after the development of effective antibiotics, infectious diseases remain the leading cause of mortality in most of the world: one-third of all deaths are attributable to bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections. Complex, sometimes chronic, infectious diseases pose major challenges to improving the health of populations and have a profound impact on social and economic development. Because these diseases are fundamentally both biological and social in nature—existing at the nexus of political, economic, religious, and social structures—understanding them and intervening effectively in their control require an analytic lens that draws from multiple social and biological disciplines.  

The Program in Infectious Disease and Social Change brings together clinicians, anthropologists, epidemiologists, and public health specialists, who approach the study of infectious diseases from the vantage point of multiple and complementary disciplines. Investigators apply ethnographic and other social science methods to understand these diseases and the responses to them at the local and global levels—from the experience of patients and families confronting illness and inadequate health care to the construction of national and global health policies.

Program faculty also apply epidemiologic methods to understand the factors affecting treatment outcomes and to improve treatment through observational studies and clinical trials of existing and new regimens.