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Study information

Pandemics: Drivers, Preparedness and Response

Module titlePandemics: Drivers, Preparedness and Response
Module codeHPDM141Z
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Professor Stephen Hinchliffe (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Pandemics invariably reveal a good deal about environmental and public health systems. From preparedness measures taken to their anticipated arrival, to their emergence, to their transmission routes and the responses that are implemented, pandemics require critical insights from public health professions in order to generate informed and effective interventions. In this module you will critically engage with pandemics from the perspectives of science and technology studies (STS), health systems policy and delivery and social and behavioural sciences. The module will be assessed formatively through active engagement with debates and summatively through a course essay.

This module is delivered by distance learning via our online platform. Teaching will draw on a range of high-quality recorded lectures, interspersed with consolidation sessions, workshops and group work. Synchronous sessions will be held via Teams or Zoom.

Module aims - intentions of the module

Using insights from a variety of disciplines, you will develop a critical approach to pandemic emergence, preparedness and response issues.  You will develop the tools and understanding for assessing the eco-social drivers of emergence; the spatial and social drivers of disease hotpots (viral and bacterial emergence, spillover as well as disease hotspots or superspreading events and locations); the role and limitations of mathematical modelling in developing policy and interventions; the effectiveness of pre-emptive, preventive and preparedness measures; the role of governance and adhesion issues in relation to non-pharmaceutical and pharmaceutical interventions.

Six core sessions will involve pre-reading materials and active learning and will cover the following:

- Introduction to pandemics – are they inevitable, or normal accidents? Drivers of emergence – human animal relations, spillovers and transmission

- Preparedness – the logic and pitfalls of anticipatory governance

- Modelling for pandemics – history of and critical appraisal of modelling approaches

- Responses – health service and social responses to pandemics as well other time sensitive health issues, the importance of cultural practice

- Governance – local, national and global as well as market-based governance approaches

- Pandemics and precarity - Social determinants of health, structural inequalities, health system precarity, pandemic vulnerabilities, including an assessment of solutions like One Health, Planetary Health and a revitalised ‘healthy public’.

The course will end with a debate on the role of various factors in the production and persistence of pandemics.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Understand the need for cross-disciplinary and socially-informed learning in relation to the drivers of and responses to pandemics.
  • 2. Apply the interdisciplinary learning from the module to a contemporary course related case study of a pandemic and or a widespread disease.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Understand how emergence, transmission and persistence are conditioned by social and environmental factors
  • 4. Critically appraise research papers and policies/ approaches related to epidemics and pandemics
  • 5. Apply conceptual insights from cultural and social sciences to the study and critical engagement with pandemic related policy and governance

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Appreciate the diversity of knowledge and practices that are required for a joined-up approach to pandemics and global health issues
  • 7. Participate in informed debates on the vital need to consider pandemic and healthy futures.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, an example of an overall structure is as follows:

The teaching and learning will follow the broad programme outlined above in the module aims. You will study each session though contrasting readings and debate (as well as indicative course teaching). For each session there will be a opening lecture/ recorded content, conceptual reading, a case study reading and first-hand / fieldwork / public account of the pandemic related topic. For example, in the introduction you will read about normal accidents (Perrow); an account of COVID-19 and a report from the WHO on pandemic response. This model will require that you apply insights from the conceptual work but also critically appraise that work in light of grounded experience and insight. The modelling session will involve reading Anderson, 2021 ‘The model crisis, or how to have critical promiscuity in the time of Covid-19’ as well as Imperial College modelling of in 2020 (Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID-19 mortality and healthcare demand). Lectures will provide key concepts and tools, readings and synchronous sessions will enable students to identify key areas for discussion and greater elaboration. Assessment will involve you working across and combining insights from the three key disciplinary approaches (STS, Health Systems and Social Behavioural Sciences) in the context of a named pandemic, or potential pandemic, situation.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities8Standard lecturing. Presentations from lecturers drawn from across the College of Medicine and Health and CLES
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities7Small group discussion. Intended as formative sessions to develop key insights and student-centred learning opportunities.
Guided independent study75Session preparation
Guided independent study60Consolidation and assignment preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Oral presentations in small groups15 minAllGroup discussion, instructor feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay1002,500 wordsAllInstructor written feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay (100%)Essay (2,500 words)AllTypically within six weeks of the result

Re-assessment notes

Please refer to the TQA section on Referral/Deferral: 

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Dry, S., & Leach, M. (Eds.). (2010). Epidemics: Science, Governance and Social Justice (1st ed.). Routledge.

Greer S, Wismar M, Figueras J. (2016) Strengthening health system governance: better policies, stronger performance. London: Open University Press

Hinchliffe S, et al (2016). Pathological Lives Disease, Space and Biopolitics. RGS Monograph Series, Wiley-Blackwell. 

Kucharski A (2020) The Rules of Contagion: Why Things Spread – And Why They Stop. London: Profile

Lakoff, A. (2017). Unprepared: Global Health in a Time of Emergency. Oakland, California: University of California Press.

Smith, P., Mossialos, E., Papanicolas, I., & Leatherman, S. (Eds.). (2010). Performance Measurement for Health System Improvement: Experiences, Challenges and Prospects (Health Economics, Policy and Management). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO978051171180

Emerging international comparative analyses of COVID-19 responses from health systems perspective, including through the Partnership for Health Systems Sustainability and Resilience

Course readings will be supplemented by inclusion of timely policy-relevant readings, e.g. recently released advice from SAGE and SPI-B and accompanying academic outputs.

Popular media include films (Contagion) as well as podcasts (for example

Key words search

pandemics; infectious disease; science and technology studies; global health; health service delivery; social epidemiology

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Last revision date