Incentives for Reporting Infectious Disease Outbreaks
The global spread of diseases such as swine flu and SARS highlights the difficult decision governments face when presented with evidence of a local outbreak. Reporting the outbreak may bring medical assistance but is also likely to trigger trade sanctions by countries hoping to contain the disease. Suppressing the information may avoid trade sanctions, but increases the likelihood of widespread epidemics. In this paper, we model the government’s decision as a signaling game in which a country has private but imperfect evidence of an outbreak. First, we find that not all sanctions discourage reporting. Sanctions based on fears of an undetected outbreak (false negatives) encourage disclosure by reducing the relative cost of sanctions that follow a reported outbreak. Second, improving the quality of detection technology may not promote the disclosure of an outbreak because the forgone trade from reporting truthfully is that much greater. Third, informal surveillance is an important channel for publicizing outbreaks and functions as an exogenous yet imperfect signal that is less likely to discourage disclosure. In sum, obtaining accurate information about potential epidemics is as much about reporting incentives as it is about detection technology.
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