Bioethics Blogs

After the End of Disease: Rethinking the Epidemic Narrative by Dora Vargha

In conversations with people living with polio in Hungary, I often encountered members of the tight-knit community referring to themselves as “dinosaurs”. We are a breed that is about to die out, they said. Nobody gets polio anymore, some added, and they were right – epidemics, even sporadic wild polio cases disappeared from the country in the 1960s. Their words stood in stark contrast with celebrities like Jackie Chan, Desmond Tutu and Bill Gates showing on billboards all over the world that with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative we are ‘this close to ending polio’. Yet the urgency of the eradication campaign and the gradual disappearance of a polio generation over a lifetime both signified the same thing: the end of a disease. But what, exactly, is this end and what comes after?

In the following weeks, a series of posts by historians, anthropologists and sociologists will grapple with these questions as they consider epidemic narratives and the ways in which endings bear on global health issues. This series accompanies the interdisciplinary conference After the End of Disease, held on May 25-27 2016 in London. Bringing together practitioners and academics from various disciplines and fields, this event aims to initiate conversations on when and for whom diseases end, what happens when the end fails to come, who gets to determine the end and who gets left behind, how a focus on endings shape health policies and how we can critically rethink the temporalities of epidemics.

Public and academic discussions on the end of diseases have been abundant in the midst of recent epidemic crises.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.