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About Philosophy of Epidemiology

Philosophy of epidemiology has only been envisioned as a field since the early 2010s. Unsurprisingly, the global pandemic has spurred growth of philosophical activity in the area, prompting its practitioners to engage questions of epidemiology and law, ethical public health response, and normative values embedded within global health response, among many other facets of this problem. Philosophers of epidemiology often work in interdisciplinary collaborations, considering issues such as how one can infer that an intervention has worked, or how to assess predictions about what would have happened in the absence of an intervention. The rapidly accelerating pace of infectious disease emergence in the twenty-first century, and the clear necessity for robust epidemiological practice and theorization around this challenge, suggest that this field will only continue to grow.

About Philosophy of Medicine and Public Health

Philosophy of medicine is a more established field than philosophy of epidemiology and has been growing since the 2000s. It suffers from an obvious lacuna in relation to the diversity of medical traditions, focusing largely on contemporary biomedicine. While this is of course centrally important, the relationships between medical traditions, in all parts of the world, become increasingly prominent as aspirations for universal healthcare provision and widespread public health interventions become more urgent. We need look no further than to low Covid vaccination levels in Africa to understand the importance of medical pluralism in both the conceptualization of and execution of public health intervention. Medical thought embeds deeply held cultural beliefs about life, death, and the workings of the world, and navigating these diversities is a continuous challenge for global public health aspirations – and for our very conception of what effective and inclusive global public health looks like. A North-South partnership such as this is ideally positioned to foreground these issues, bringing them alongside more familiar topics in the philosophy of medicine, and engaging medical and public health policy formation.

Health research and impact is a strategic emphasis at Durham (“Health@Durham”). At UJ, the Health Sciences are likewise central to the University’s strategy for continued growth, as well as being at the heart of the UJ’s concern with inequalities in society. Health inequalities are in sharper focus now than ever before, and a North-South partnership is ideally positioned to leverage the resources that this renewed focus is generating. There is an excellent and growing body of philosophical work on global health, population health, and questions around the nature and identity of the “public” or “populations” that are served or, at times, neglected.

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