Disease Dilemmas

Age 11 to 16

This classroom activity is part of the Disease Dynamics collection

This exercise raises ethical questions relating to disease outbreaks that may be interesting for students to consider. It asks students to explore the difficulties policy makers face when discussing how to combat infectious disease.

Although not directly linked to the maths or science curriculum, this exercise requires students to think critically about issues in infectious disease control and to contemplate that sometimes the best public health or scientific approach may not be approved by politicians or welcomed by the general public.

It also allows students to consider the multi-disciplinary nature of infectious disease control, which can require involvement from mathematicians, scientists, politicians, ethicists, lawyers etc.

Resources: Downloadable articles for discussion on each of the topics: Iceland and Biobanks, Federal Drug Agency: 23 and me, Ebola vaccine trials and Antibiotic resistance.

Curriculum links
  • Make an informed personal response, recognising that other responses to a text are possible and evaluating these.
  • Planning for different purposes and audiences, including debates.

This could also offer discussion for PHSE classes.


  • To understand that infectious disease control policy has many dimensions and professionals from different sectors do not always agree on which approach is best from a public health perspective.
  • To understand that sometimes the best public health approach isn't always taken due to social, ethical or political factors.
  • To discuss ethical issues around infectious disease control.
  • To generate debate amongst students.
  • To get students to develop arguments for/against certain policies.

Activity (Small Groups)

Divide the class into small groups.

Give each group a print out of a newspaper article and get them to read it. You can either give the whole class the same article, or you can give different groups different articles (if the latter - get them to explain the subject aloud to the rest of the class before the debate).

Nominate different groups to take opposing sides to the debate.

Get the group to discuss and make a list of their key arguments that they are going to use.

Activity (Whole Class)

Let the groups nominate a spokesperson and start the debate.

Invite the groups to go back and forth in their debate.

Iceland & Biobanks

Should scientists be able to encourage people to share their DNA?

Should a government be able to share health data with this biobank?

Why is the biobank in Iceland such an important resource for researchers?

What are the dangers with giving researchers too much information about yourself?

Why do people participate in such research?

Federal Drug Agencgy: 23 and me

What are the dangers of genetic testing?

Why are the FDA worried about private organisations offering such a service?

Why are some people concerned that their data is owned by a private company?

Who else can finding genetic information affect? (ie. Your family, those who have the same genes as you)

Would you want to find out about your genetic make-up? Why?

Ebola vaccine trials

Why do most vaccine trials have control groups?

Should the ebola trials allow for a control group - what are the dangers?

Is it ethical to give participants a placebo for a fatal disease?

Is it ethical to give participants an unapproved vaccine?

Antibiotic resistance

Why are people concerned about antibiotic resistance?

What can we do to stop resistance getting worse?

Should we stop taking antibiotics to stop resistance? What are the dangers of this?

Should we allow future generations to face a post-antibiotic world? What are the dangers of this?