Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

8. International Health Regulations and Epidemic Control

Johan Giesecke

Alert function

  • Alert function requires countries that discover an outbreak to immediately notify other countries
  • Alert function is non-rivalrous (info used by one country does not prevent another using it)
  • Alert function is non-excludable (once information disseminated it is impossible to prevent countries using it)

Just as for national infection control, there are two primary parts to the process: the alert function and the control measures.

The alert function builds on the principle that when a country discovers an outbreak that may spread to other countries, it immediately notifies these other countries. In this sense, the alert function is a non-rivalrous and non-excludable global public good. Other countries are forewarned and can take action to protect their citizens. Tourists can be warned not to travel to the affected area, and arrivals of people or goods from that area can be checked for disease - or even refused. In this example it is the information itself that should be an intermediate good, but it is easy to see that unless the process is totally transparent, some countries could be excluded from information, and it would thus become a 'club good' among countries with sensitive international intelligence systems.

Also, just as in the example of the 'cordon sanitaire', 'global' may not include the affected country. In most instances this country has little to gain from an alert, and more often than not it will suffer - at least in the short run. Tourists will stop coming, its citizens will be subjected to check-ups or quarantine when travelling abroad, and its exports may be stopped.