Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

8. International Health Regulations and Epidemic Control

Johan Giesecke

Control measures

  • International spread of infection prevented by national action (e.g. quarantine, trade barriers)
  • Increasingly globalisation makes this strategy increasingly less effective
  • International alert function requires developed countries to assist less developed in control where outbreak emerges
  • BUT this assistance could be excludable and rival

Traditionally, the strategy to stop the international spread of infection has been nationalistic: each country attempting to prevent importation of disease into its territory by quarantine measures or trade barriers. With increasingly rapid movement of people and goods between countries, this strategy is becoming less and less effective. According to the International Air Travel Association around 500 million international flights were made in 2000, and the annual increase during the 1990's was some 7%.

From this aspect, it would almost always be preferable for the international community if outbreaks were discovered and reported early, so that they could be eliminated where they first appeared. This would require an international alert function, but also a willingness by the developed countries to rapidly assist the less developed when a problem emerges.

Evidently, however, such co-ordinated international assistance could be both excludable (some countries may not be eligible for support for political reasons), and rivalrous (assistance may not be offered first to those countries most in need, but to those where the epidemic poses the most urgent threat to developed countries).