Fighting Disease Pays Dividends

by Dish Staff

Charles Kenny makes the economic case for eradicating Ebola:

There are straightforwardly selfish reasons for rich countries to work with poor countries to eradicate infectious diseases. While Ebola in its current form is an unlikely candidate as a serious health threat to Americans or Europeans, other diseases, from AIDS to West Nile virus, are reminders that infections that start or survive in the developing world can become considerable threats to the health of people in wealthier societies. Reducing the risk of such diseases has a global benefit.

The fight against smallpox is a case in point. Annual expenditure on the global smallpox eradication campaign from 1967 to 1979 was $23 million. Since eradication in 1980, the U.S. has recouped nearly 500-fold the value of its contribution to that effort in saved vaccination and treatment costs. And although smallpox remains the only scourge to have been intentionally wiped off the face of the earth (minus a few refrigerators), global progress against other infections has been dramatic enough to save considerable medical costs the world over. The U.S. doesn’t regularly vaccinate against tuberculosis, typhoid fever, yellow fever, or cholera because rates are low enough at home and in nearby countries that the the threat they pose is minimal.

Meanwhile, Laura Seay and Kim Yi Dionne rip to shreds Newsweek’s fear-mongering Ebola cover story:

The Newsweek story implies increased vulnerability to Ebola in the United States, which psychology research shows will likely amplify negative reactions to people heuristically associated with the disease — in this case, the many African migrants living in the Bronx (and potentially elsewhere in the United States) accused by Newsweek of liking bushmeat (never mind that Newsweek’s investigative reporters were never able to locate any for sale). The negative reactions to increased vulnerability include having more xenophobic attitudes. …

Fear-mongering narratives about Ebola circulating in the popular media can also have a serious effect on knowledge and attitudes about Ebola. Though there are no cases of person-to-person infection in the United States, a recent poll conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health reports 39 percent of Americans think there will be a large Ebola outbreak in the United States and more than a quarter of Americans are concerned that they or someone in their immediate family may get sick with Ebola in the next year.