Infectious diseases are the leading killers of people living in poverty. Complex, sometimes chronic, infectious diseases pose major challenges to improving the health of poor populations and have a profound impact on economic development. Because these diseases are fundamentally both biological and social in nature, understanding them and intervening effectively in their control require an analytic lens that is also both biological and social.

Investigators are clinicians, anthropologists, epidemiologists, and public health specialists who apply the disciplines of social medicine in two priority disease areas: drug-resistant tuberculosis and HIV disease. Current research aims to address questions including:

  • how can effective treatment be best delivered and health systems strengthened?
  • how can treatment regimens be optimized and quality of care improved?
  • how can acquired resistance be prevented?
  • how can transmission be prevented and disease risk reduced?
  • how does the lived experience of poverty and disease impact global policy?

Faculty are active in teaching undergraduate and graduate students, as well as residents and fellows. The Program in Infectious Disease and Social Change is closely affiliated with the public charity Partners In Health, which provides free medical care to poor patients, and collaborates with the World Health Organization and other international agencies in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, and Eastern Europe.

Program faculty 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 apply epidemiologic methods to understand the factors affecting treatment outcomes, and to improve treatment through clinical trials of existing and new compounds. These investigators use their research to improve local health care delivery approaches and to guide the design and implementation of health policies. The Program has more than 20 years of experience engaging these problems through applied research and teaching.