Keynote: Pandemic Pasts, Endemic Futures

Nov 28, 2022


Late in 2021 popular media around the world began to recategorize Covid-19 as an
‘endemic’ disease. The refashioning of the deadliest and most devastating pandemic in
recent history continues well into 2022. But what does ‘endemic’ mean, and why is it
being used at this moment? Epidemiologists have struggled to form a consensus on the
term, while in popular discourse endemic has come to mean benign and ‘normal’. And
yet, endemicity has long been an epidemiological concept used to categorize and explain
the distribution of disease in populations. This paper interrogates the shifting historical
dimensions of endemicity, showing how the term was yoked in the nineteenth century to
colonial and later tropical medicine. Endemicity, I argue, has long been geopolitically
wielded by western public health officials, which provides key historical context for how
it is being used globally today.