Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

1. Global Public Goods and Health: concepts and issues

David Woodward, Richard D Smith

Prevention or containment of communicable disease

  • Preventing one person (nation) from getting a communicable disease (or treating it successfully) benefits the individual (nation) concerned and alsoreduces the risks of infection to other (nations)
  • Not all communicable diseases are global and thus only some communicable diseases may be considered as GPGs

The prevention or containment of communicable disease. Preventing one person from getting an communicable disease (or treating it successfully) clearly benefits the individual concerned, but it also provides a significant positive externality to others by reducing their risk of infection. Similarly, the reduction of communicable disease within one country reduces the probability of cross-border transmission to other countries. However, while communicable disease control is non-rival in its effect (one person’s lower risk of contracting a disease does not limit the benefits of that lower risk to others), its production requires excludable inputs, such as vaccination, clean water or condoms, as well as non-excludable inputs, such as knowledge of preventive interventions and best practice in treatment. In this sense, it may generally be considered a ‘club good’ (non-rival but excludable), although its non-rival effect does imply that even if it is feasible to exclude people it may not be desirable, as the marginal effects on the health of others may outweigh the marginal savings from exclusion.
However, since not all communicable diseases are global, clearly only the prevention or containment of some communicable diseases may be considered as GPGs. For example, malaria control benefits only endemic areas, so can only be a ‘regional public good’.
Thus only for a sub-set of communicable diseases can the prevention/containment of such diseases be considered a GPG.