Pandemics in Global Perspective


A year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, the Brown University School of Public Health has adapted curriculum to best equip students with an understanding of how to prevent, mitigate, and respond to future health crises. One of the school’s newest graduate level courses is PHP2235 ‘Pandemics in Global Perspective: From HIV/AIDS to COVID-19’ which examines key epidemiological methods used for studying and preventing global pandemics by focusing on two that played out on different time scales.

In this course, students use the examples of pandemics to better understand the natural history, distribution, pathogenesis, transmission, and prevention of infectious diseases globally while paying particular attention to the complexities of disease measurement and the interpretation of data during an ongoing crisis. Designed and taught seminar style by Mark Lurie Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology, the course allows students to explore the transmission events that fueled the pandemics under consideration, to discuss the social and political dynamics that exacerbated spread of these infections, and to consider intervention efforts.

With over twenty years of experience in the field of epidemiology, Lurie, who focuses most on the HIV/AIDS pandemic, pivoted his expertise to meet the urgent public health need at the onset of the pandemic. “I have been wanting for some time to take a step back and think more about the broader lessons of the HIV pandemic,” Lurie said. “COVID on the other hand is so new that we have experienced it in real time—the rapidly evolving science, the changing guidelines, the new variants—and so it seemed like a good contrast and a sound organizing principle for a new course.”

PHP2235 examines what can be learned from HIV and other epidemics or pandemics, and how to use that information to prevent the next one. “There will be a whole generation of historians, public health advocates, activists, and scientists pondering this question for many years to come,” Lurie said.

Today’s graduate students at Brown are embracing the new course. “The diseases we typically study in public health courses have long histories, textbook explanations, and have been impacting the world for decades,” Haley Adrian ScM’22, a second year Master of Science student said. “In PHP2235, we are learning about COVID-19 as it continues to evolve and impact the world around us in real time. This unique learning experience, drawing interesting parallels between the COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS pandemics, is forcing us to question just how much we’ve learned from our past.”