The frequency and scale of Emerging Infectious Diseases (EIDs) with pandemic potential has been increasing over the last two decades and, as COVID-19 has shown, such zoonotic spill-over events are an increasing threat to public health globally. There has been considerable research into EIDs – especially in the case of COVID-19. However, most of this has focused on disease emergence, symptom identification, chains of transmission, case prevalence and mortality as well as prevention and treatment. Much less attention has been paid to health equity concerns and the relationship between socio-economic inequalities and the spread, scale and resolution of EID pandemics. This commentary article therefore explores socio-economic inequalities in the nature of EID pandemics. Drawing on three diverse case studies (Zika, Ebola, COVID-19), it hypothesises the four main pathways linking inequality and infectious disease (unequal exposure, unequal transmission, unequal susceptibility, unequal treatment) – setting out a new model for understanding EIDs and health inequalities. It concludes by considering the research directions and policy actions needed to reduce inequalities in future EID outbreaks.© 2022. The Author(s).
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