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Programmes Collective Responsibility for Infectious Disease

Oxford Martin Programme on Collective Responsibility for Infectious Disease

The Challenge

One of the biggest collective action problems of the 21st century is the global prevention and management of infectious diseases. As drugs and vaccinations have proliferated, protection from disease has increasingly been seen as an individual problem, requiring individual action. But, due to the evolution of anti?microbial resistance, vaccine refusal and rapid disease transmission through global trade and travel, the impact of the drugs and vaccines that we have come to take for granted is substantially undermined.

Although significant resources are devoted to scientific investigation of the way that diseases spread, the ‘human factor’ has largely been ignored. Understanding the effects of policy, individual and group behavior and psychology on the genesis and control of infectious diseases will allow us to identify how responsibility for infectious diseases - and the strategies that might be employed to mitigate them - is distributed throughout the world.

Collective failure to manage the human factor contributes to the threat of infection, and the very real consequences for those afflicted by diseases such as influenza, malaria and childhood infections. Devising, implementing and enforcing a strategy to remedy this will require a behavior change derived from a new understanding of collective moral responsibility.

Our Approach

Bringing together zoology, history, philosophy, psychology and medicine, our four-year project addresses the central research question: What is the role of collective responsibility in the genesis of and appropriate response to the threat of infectious disease?

Having identified what we should expect to encounter in terms of infectious threats and their social and economic consequences if the world sticks to ‘business as usual’, we will, amongst other things:

  • investigate individual and collective moral responsibility in this context;
  • identify psychological and historical factors relevant to the spread of disease;
  • define collective responsibility in a useful, practical way;
  • examine implications of potential strategies for fundamental and legal rights,
  • investigate how techniques from psychology and behavioural economics might be used to increase a sense of collective responsibility and improve behaviour.
  • identify and recommend solutions.


Our principal aim is to generate disease-specific policy recommendations for collective action on influenza, malaria, antibiotic resistance and vaccine-preventable childhood infections.

The ultimate ambition of the programme is to create a new climate of collective responsibility for infectious disease, to ensure that policy makers, public health and medical professionals, and individuals are mobilized to confront and tackle the human factor in infectious diseases.