Sunday, June 18, 2006

An Agenda: Avian Influenza Economics

Essentially all public health officials agree that an avian flu pandemic is just over the horizon. Governments around the world are bracing for a very serious event, one on the order of the 1918 pandemic that killed at least 40 million and perhaps as many as 120 million people.

Such a pandemic would be the defining event for a generation, yet it would be strangely different from past defining events:
  • First, the stages of this pandemic --- unlike wars or other human disaster --- are reasonably amenable to being thought through well in advance of the events themselves.
  • Second, although there will be innumerable surprises, we know that the event will be of limited duration.
  • Third, with high probability (and with perhaps a few small exceptions), the permanent changes will be personal and local --- not geo-political.
The public health consensus is that we face a "when, not an if" situation, so we also face a strange kind of uncertainty --- one for which no one has much practice and one for which many people have little patience. We face a huge, uncontrolled, non-laboratory experiment for decision making. In aggregate, humanity is not likely to perform well in this experiment, either in its preparation or its eventual confrontation with the pandemic.

What you can expect to find here is a critical commentary on the events that lead us toward, through, and past the anticipated avian flu pandemic. The issues that you can expect to see discussed here include:
  • The economics and the ethics of antiviral (Tamiflu, Relenza) stockpiling by governments, NGOs, business enterprises, and individuals.
  • The responses of financial markets to the present pandemic threat --- including contrasts with past pandemics and pandemic threats (SARS).
  • The responses of pharmaceutical firms to the approaching pandemic, including changes in patent policy such as Roche's non-statement statement that "Tamiflu is not protected by patent in Indonesia."
This blog will also explore the responsible actions that can be taken by individuals and families to protect their physical as well as their financial health.

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