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Compared to natural disasters—hurricanes, tornadoes, floods—pandemics are comparatively rare. British sociologist Phil Strong (1990) was one of the few to study pandemics. He developed a framework based on accounts of pandemics back to the Black Death in 14th century Europe. Pandemics represented moments of transparency in the social order. All sorts of institutions, relationships, and interactions suddenly became problematic. The taken-for-granted assumptions of everyday life were exposed and became uncertain and questionable.
We are in the midst of a pandemic. But that midst differs by place. Health crises exacerbate underlying inequities, and countries vary in expertise, infrastructure, and the will to address them. As sociologists who study global heath and development across several world regions (Africa, Latin America, and Asia), we understand the importance of recognizing the multiplicity, but also the commonality, of challenges.