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Responding to global infectious disease outbreaks: Lessons from SARS on the role of risk perception, communication and management


  • Smith, Richard D.


With increased globalisation comes the likelihood that infectious disease appearing in one country will spread rapidly to another, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) being a recent example. However, although SARS infected some 10,000 individuals, killing around 1000, it did not lead to the devastating health impact that many feared, but a rather disproportionate economic impact. The disproportionate scale and nature of this impact has caused concern that outbreaks of more serious disease could cause catastrophic impacts on the global economy. Understanding factors that led to the impact of SARS might help to deal with the possible impact and management of such other infectious disease outbreaks. In this respect, the role of risk--its perception, communication and management--is critical. This paper looks at the role that risk, and especially the perception of risk, its communication and management, played in driving the economic impact of SARS. It considers the public and public health response to SARS, the role of the media and official organisations, and proposes policy and research priorities for establishing a system to better deal with the next global infectious disease outbreak. It is concluded that the potential for the rapid spread of infectious disease is not necessarily a greater threat than it has always been, but the effect that an outbreak can have on the economy is, which requires further research and policy development.

Suggested Citation

  • Smith, Richard D., 2006. "Responding to global infectious disease outbreaks: Lessons from SARS on the role of risk perception, communication and management," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 63(12), pages 3113-3123, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:63:y:2006:i:12:p:3113-3123

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Kott, Anne & Limaye, Rupali J., 2016. "Delivering risk information in a dynamic information environment: Framing and authoritative voice in Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and primetime broadcast news media communications during the 2014," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 169(C), pages 42-49.
    2. Wang, Hufeng & Gusmano, Michael K. & Cao, Qi, 2011. "An evaluation of the policy on community health organizations in China: Will the priority of new healthcare reform in China be a success?," Health Policy, Elsevier, vol. 99(1), pages 37-43, January.
    3. Kiana Moore & Heather Allen, 2013. "Continuity of Business Plans for Animal Disease Outbreaks: Using a Logic Model Approach to Protect Animal Health, Public Health, and Our Food Supply," Agriculture, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 3(2), pages 1-18, April.
    4. P. Beutels & W. J. Edmunds & R. D. Smith, 2008. "Partially wrong? Partial equilibrium and the economic analysis of public health emergencies of international concern," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 17(11), pages 1317-1322.
    5. Keogh-Brown, Marcus Richard & Smith, Richard David, 2008. "The economic impact of SARS: How does the reality match the predictions?," Health Policy, Elsevier, vol. 88(1), pages 110-120, October.
    6. Yu, Hao, 2015. "Universal health insurance coverage for 1.3 billion people: What accounts for China's success?," Health Policy, Elsevier, vol. 119(9), pages 1145-1152.
    7. Garoon, Joshua P. & Duggan, Patrick S., 2008. "Discourses of disease, discourses of disadvantage: A critical analysis of National Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Plans," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 67(7), pages 1133-1142, October.


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