SOAS University of London

SOAS and the Royal Veterinary College to collaborate on research project to tackle infectious disease and AMR challenges

25 August 2020

Researchers from SOAS, University of London and the Royal Veterinary College are collaborating on the Research England funded project, "Enhancing Political Economy Research Skills to Tackle Infectious Disease and AMR Challenges". 

The ways in which economic, social, cultural and political factors determine individual and community behaviours are vital factors in addressing issues related to infectious disease and antimicrobial resistance. However, interdisciplinary approaches to natural science research are not as commonplace as they could be, and too often social science techniques are employed as “bolt-ons” due to a lack of comprehensive understanding of the methodological suitability. Such “bolt-on” practices can give rise to biases that are generated during the data collection process, which compromises external validity, as well as interpretation and application of such academic research; this in turn generates negative spill over effects in terms of welfare, policy development, and implementation of best practice.  

With this is mind, this project aims to train researchers investigating infectious disease and Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) by equipping them with tools, theory and methods from political economy and heterodox economics in order to critically examine social, economic, cultural and political relations that govern human behaviours and policymaking in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). The module will emphasise the value of having interdisciplinary social sciences leadership and research embedded in natural sciences vision of zoonosis and infection control, and for protecting and preparing societies against emergence of future epidemics/pandemics with severe adverse health and socio-economic impact. Political economy studies how relations of power shape economic practices and outcomes. Taking a political economy approach entails considering how political choices, institutional structures, and forms of governance influence economic phenomena and how the existing economic and governance structures are reflective of ‘deeper’ determinants, such as colonial settlement, political clientelism, physical geography and natural resource endowments, the disease ecology of societies, and social differentiation among other factors.

Political economy research has long highlighted the need for such historical and spatial understanding of the role and functioning of the above-mentioned ‘deep’ determinants of development. The course will provide researchers with the knowledge to explore the economic, social, political and cultural dimensions that shape policy making and its effects, rather than pursuing uniform, “one size fits all” approaches in preparing and protecting against AMR and zoonotic diseases in LMICs.

Dr. Sara Stevano from the Department of Economics at SOAS will be a lead contributor to the course, based on her expertise in feminist political economy of development and exploration of mixed methods in political economy research. Dr Stevano will work with Dr Mehroosh Tak, Lecturer in Agribusiness at RVC and Adam Willman, a PhD student at SOAS Economics who will also work on the project as a research assistant. 

The project provides an exciting opportunity to develop new research tools from political economy discipline to better understand human-animal disease interaction.

Dr. Sara Stevano, Lecturer in Economics at SOAS said:

'The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has clearly exposed the critical need to consider health and disease through interdisciplinary approaches. I am very pleased to work with Dr Mehroosh Tak and her colleagues at RVC to develop a course aimed at equipping researchers on infectious disease and AMR with knowledge and tools to capture the interconnections between biological, social, economic and political dimensions underpinning the transmission and management of infectious disease.'