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Benefit-Cost Analysis of Ebola Response Strategies

The spectre of an Ebola outbreak has predictably prompted knee jerk reactions from governments around the world in an attempt to demonstrate that they are in control. Certainly, governments have a responsibility to protect their citizens and to prevent a panic amongst their constituents. In a sense, Ebola is only one example of how perception has come to dominate policy effectiveness in governments around the world. This post is not a whinge-fest on the hopelessness of governments. Instead, I want to demonstrate how a benefit-cost framework can help governments understand the pros and cons of different Ebola response strategies taken from my experience working on biosecurity issues. I will do so in a qualitative way to show that benefit-cost analysis does not necessarily involve lengthy reports and expensive consultants – this is something that can be done quickly to give policy-makers a sense of what are the main drivers of the problem (Ebola) and what strategies can be used to deal with it.

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Ebola and Market Failure

You have probably heard about the deadly progress of the Ebola virus in West Africa. It is spreading at an alarming rate and does not appear to have any cure. To make matters worse, Ebola has a high fatality rate of 70% according to the most rigorous statistical studies. So far, it has claimed over 2000 lives and has now spread into Africa’s most populous nation of Nigeria. There may be unconfirmed reports that Ebola has found its way into Australia. According to the Oxford University professor, Adrian Hill, a vaccine is “doable” but ‘Big Pharma’ has not developed a vaccine because there was no business case. This situation sounds like a classic case of market failure. (more…)