The price of public health: Assessing epidemic risk management

The price of public health: Assessing epidemic risk management | Insurance Business

The price of public health: Assessing epidemic risk management
By Jaclyn Guerrero, applied epidemiologist at Metabiota, a pioneer in epidemic risk modeling.

The New Year marks the continuation of a deadly decade for infectious disease outbreaks. With the largest and most deadly outbreaks of cholera in modern history (Yemen and Haiti, respectively), the emergence and outbreaks of MERS in the Middle East and South Korea, the largest Ebola outbreak in history, and the explosion of the Zika virus globally, the 2010s has been a tragic decade for infectious disease outbreaks causing millions of illnesses and thousands of deaths. While the immediate impacts of infectious diseases are devastating for populations worldwide, they also pose significant economic concern for government officials, and, no less, the corporate risk function.

Public sentiment towards infectious disease outbreaks can cripple businesses and economies, sometimes in an even more extreme way than the outbreak itself. When an outbreak occurs, especially in a region that has not previously seen the disease, the response of the people in that area often compounds an already destructive sequence of events. From media attention to a sometimes reactionary and fearful public, many people will disrupt work, cancel trips and stop trading. During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, airline stocks fell as investors bet on a decrease in travel due to the cases of Ebola at Texas Presbyterian Hospital. Furthermore, several hundred airline workers did not report for work at LaGuardia Airport in New York due to their concerns over inadequate on-the-job protection. 

Some outbreaks also warrant travel advisories. While these advisories are undoubtedly necessary precautions needed to reduce the spread of the disease, they often lead to direct, negative impacts on tourism and business in general in a region for months to come. One notable example is the CDC travel advisory that was issued in August 2016, urging pregnant women not to visit a Miami neighborhood after fourteen people were infected with the Zika virus. This was the first time that CDC officials had warned against travel to part of the continental United States due to an outbreak, and the consequences of the advisory were felt immediately: businesses closed their doors, trips were cancelled, and airlines offered refunds on flights to Miami

As Zika and other infectious disease outbreaks spread beyond their initial bounds, it is evident that epidemics will continue to have global impacts. The risk of disease outbreaks will increase as the world becomes more connected through trade and travel, climate change alters disease ranges, and the population continues to grow and interface with new diseases from animal populations. Constant media coverage means the fear associated with outbreaks spread globally even more rapidly.


Source: Petra Wildemann, Metabiota

In order to better prepare for the potential financial losses from these epidemic events, countries and corporations must understand epidemic risk so that it can be assessed, planned for and managed more closely. With data, expertise, resources and investment, now – more than ever before – it is possible for the public and private sectors to mitigate the threat of this risks.


Source: Petra Wildemann, Metabiota


About the Author
Jaclyn Guerrero is an applied epidemiologist at Metabiota. She received her MPH in Epidemiology/Biostatistics and BA from UC Berkeley's School of Public Health.