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On SARS type economic effects during infectious disease outbreaks

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  • Brahmbhatt, Milan
  • Dutta, Arindam
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    Abstract

    Infectious disease outbreaks can exact a high human and economic cost through illness and death. But, as with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in East Asia in 2003, or the plague outbreak in Surat, India, in 1994, they can also create severe economic disruptions even when there is, ultimately, relatively little illness or death. Such disruptions are commonly the result of uncoordinated and panicky efforts by individuals to avoid becoming infected, of preventive activity. This paper places these"SARS type"effects in the context of research on economic epidemiology, in which behavioral responses to disease risk have both economic and epidemiological consequences. The paper looks in particular at how people form subjective probability judgments about disease risk. Public opinion surveys during the SARS outbreak provide suggestive evidence that people did indeed at times hold excessively high perceptions of the risk of becoming infected, or, if infected, of dying from the disease. The paper discusses research in behavioral economics and the theory of information cascades that may shed light on the origin of such biases. The authors consider whether public information strategies can help reduce unwarranted panic. A preliminary question is why governments often seem to have strong incentives to conceal information about infectious disease outbreaks. The paper reviews recent game-theoretic analysis that clarifies government incentives. An important finding is that government incentives to conceal decline the more numerous are non-official sources of information about a possible disease outbreak. The findings suggest that honesty may indeed be the best public policy under modern conditions of easy mass global communications.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 4466.

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    Date of creation: 01 Jan 2008
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    Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:4466

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    Related research

    Keywords: Health Monitoring&Evaluation; Disease Control&Prevention; Population Policies; Hazard Risk Management; Gender and Health;

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

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    1. Edoardo Gaffeo, 2003. "The Economics of HIV/AIDS: A Survey," Development Policy Review, Overseas Development Institute, vol. 21(1), pages 27-49, 01.
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    3. Kremer, Michael, 1996. "Integrating Behavioral Choice into Epidemiological Models of AIDS," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 111(2), pages 549-73, May.
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    7. Warwick McKibbin & Alexandra Sidorenko, 2006. "Global Macroeconomic Consequences of Pandemic Influenza," CAMA Working Papers 2006-26, Centre for Applied Macroeconomic Analysis, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.
    8. Gale, Douglas, 1996. "What have we learned from social learning?," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(3-5), pages 617-628, April.
    9. Mark Gersovitz & Jeffrey S. Hammer, 2004. "The Economical Control of Infectious Diseases," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(492), pages 1-27, 01.
    10. Philipson, Tomas, 2000. "Economic epidemiology and infectious diseases," Handbook of Health Economics, in: A. J. Culyer & J. P. Newhouse (ed.), Handbook of Health Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 33, pages 1761-1799 Elsevier.
    11. Sushil Bikhchandani & David Hirshleifer & Ivo Welch, 1998. "Learning from the Behavior of Others: Conformity, Fads, and Informational Cascades," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(3), pages 151-170, Summer.
    12. Richard G. Frank, 2004. "Behavioral Economics and Health Economics," NBER Working Papers 10881, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Emily Oster, 2007. "HIV and Sexual Behavior Change: Why Not Africa?," NBER Working Papers 13049, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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