Over the past few weeks, Zika virus has been constantly mentioned on television and in newspapers. The scourge is the latest in a long line of recent highly publicised epidemics of varying severity, including Ebola, dengue, chikungunya, H1N1 and H5N1. Despite the great hope in the 1960s and 1970s that insecticides, antibiotics, vaccination and improved hygiene would eradicate infectious diseases, the increasing frequency of emerging diseases bears testament to our overconfidence.
In less than two decades, new viruses that were thought to have been controlled have re-emerged worldwide. Socially disadvantaged individuals and urban health inequities may help spread such diseases. Just as social sciences originally used diseases as a powerful prism to study inequalities in urban areas, there is now a case for using social sciences to analyse and solve global health issues.