The impact of rumors and fear

Fear of disease can deter travel even if risk is minimal or absent. Individuals, organizations, and countries may not base decisions on sound science. An infectious disease may have a severe economic impact on a region, making governments reluctant to acknowledge its presence. Diseases are not neutral in reputation. Infections such as plague (Wilson, 1995c) and cholera carry stigma, and may lead to irrational decisions about travel and trade. For example, after reports of a plague outbreak in India in 1994, many countries stopped importing foodstuffs and textiles from India even though the World Health Organization requested that no travel or trade restrictions be imposed on the country. Travel to India dropped, with the loss of at least 2.2 million tourists during one season. The estimated losses secondary to the reported outbreak were more than US$2 billion (Cash and Narasimhan, 2000).

The number of international tourist arrivals declined in 2003 in response to outbreaks of SARS and the associated travel advisories. The WTO reported that arrivals at some affected countries in Asia plunged to below 50 percent of their usual levels in April and May (WTO, 2005). Although the region rebounded quickly, SARS was responsible for a 9 percent overall loss in travel volume for Asia for the year 2003. Estimates of the global cost of SARS associated with lost economic activity have been estimated at about US$40 billion, and perhaps as high as US$54 billion (Lee and McKibbin, 2004).

Rumors and fear can also affect the control of infectious diseases. Rumors that polio vaccine contained the AIDS virus and hormones that could sterilize girls in the largely Muslim population led Nigeria's northern states to halt polio vaccination in mid-2003 (Heymann and Aylward, 2004; Samba et al., 2004). Political and religious factors contributed to the decision. By the time additional testing had been completed and the vaccine declared safe, polio outbreaks had spread in Nigeria and fueled outbreaks in other countries (see Figure 1.4).

0 0

Post a comment