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PLoS One. 2014 Mar 6;9(3):e90290. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0090290. eCollection 2014.

Incentives for reporting disease outbreaks.

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Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, Washington, D. C., United States of America; Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, United States of America; Public Health Foundation of India, ISID Campus, Institutional Area, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, India.
Department of Finance and Institute of Government and Public Affairs, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois, United States of America.
Law School and Pritzker School of Medicine, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, United States of America; Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, Washington, D. C., United States of America.



Countries face conflicting incentives to report infectious disease outbreaks. Reports of outbreaks can prompt other countries to impose trade and travel restrictions, which has the potential to discourage reporting. However, reports can also bring medical assistance to contain the outbreak, including access to vaccines.


We compiled data on reports of meningococcal meningitis to the World Health Organization (WHO) from 54 African countries between 1966 and 2002, a period is marked by two events: first, a large outbreak reported from many countries in 1987 associated with the Hajj that resulted in more stringent requirements for meningitis vaccination among pilgrims; and second, another large outbreak in Sub-Saharan Africa in 1996 that led to a new international mechanism to supply vaccines to countries reporting a meningitis outbreak. We used fixed-effects regression modeling to statistically estimate the effect of external forcing events on the number of countries reporting cases of meningitis to WHO.


We find that the Hajj vaccination requirements started in 1988 were associated with reduced reporting, especially among countries with relatively fewer cases reported between 1966 and 1979. After the vaccine provision mechanism was in place in 1996, reporting among countries that had previously not reported meningitis outbreaks increased.


These results indicate that countries may respond to changing incentives to report outbreaks when they can do so. In the long term, these incentives are likely to be more important than surveillance assistance in prompt reporting of outbreaks.

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