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Disease Outbreaks and Economics: an Interview with Prof. Rodolphe Desbordes

“Our results indicate that factors fostering a disease outbreak in one country can quickly lead to the emergence of a disease outbreak in another country.”

Epidemic infectious disease outbreak with person analyzing virus strain and worldwide situation. SARS-CoV-2 pathogen causing coronavirus covid-19 pandemic disrupting social and economic life

 

In March 2021, the Journal of Mathematical Economics published a research paper, Spatial dynamics of major infectious diseases outbreaks: A global empirical assessment. The article explored the spatial dependence of outbreaks and the role of globalization, analyzing 20 years’ worth of major outbreaks in developed and developing countries. The study found empirical evidence that ‘local outbreaks of many different infectious diseases can quickly spread to other countries’. Mortality consequences were found to be ‘much more severe in developing countries’.

 

Economics professor Rodolphe Desbordes
Prof. Rodolphe Desbordes

We spoke with the author Rodolphe Desbordes, a Professor of Economics at SKEMA Business School, about the importance of this research and the reasons behind choosing GIDEON as the data source.

Prof. Desbordes has widely published in the fields of International Economics and Economic Development. His current research interests encompass applied econometrics, determinants of political regime changes, and the links between biodiversity, economic activity, and zoonotic diseases.

 

 

How did you find out about GIDEON? 

I was looking for data with worldwide coverage on outbreaks of infectious diseases. I was really surprised not to find this information easily (e.g. provided by the WHO). In a few papers, I noticed their use of GIDEON.

 

What were the reasons behind choosing the GIDEON database for your analysis? 

I am really an applied macroeconomist, often interested in very global issues. For this reason, I need databases with long (time) and wide (spatial) coverage to run estimations. GIDEON was the perfect database for the epidemiological project I had in mind. In addition, for a non-specialist, the information provided on each disease was crucial to a better understanding of disease-specific characteristics.

 

How could healthcare systems benefit from a more econometric approach? 

Adopting an econometric approach is useful to reveal broad patterns, isolate the effects of specific factors, and carry out projections. This type of approach must be done in conjunction with expert knowledge of local conditions.

 

What is the importance of taking epidemiological data into account in the context of international policymaking? 

Deming said that “without data, you are just another person with an opinion”. Data are essential to guide domestic and international policymaking. Lots of data still need to be produced, in order to strengthen surveillance systems.

 

Do you consider developed countries’ decision to donate COVID-19 vaccines a step towards achieving a GPG (Global Public Good), and do you see this becoming more commonplace?

Some people have argued that the current pandemic is a rehearsal for the coming climate change crisis. It is essential that developed countries stop acting as if they live on a different planet where bad things do not happen to them. An unfortunate advantage of global crises is that even self-interested rich countries contribute to the Global Public Good. However more needs to be done. Donating vaccines is an encouraging sign.

 

Do you believe the current pandemic will encourage a more global view of public health concerns and their associated impact on economies? 

This is a tough question! We have been warned repeatedly about the risks of emerging infectious diseases. But, unfortunately, we did not act to prevent global pandemics from happening. One may hope that we will draw out the right lessons from the current pandemic. However, I am skeptical. For policymakers, the future always seems far away and purely national issues much more pressing than uncertain existential risks.

 

What value did having access to global data add to your study?

As an applied economist, I value excellent data on a novel and interesting issue more than anything else. The GIDEON database allowed me to publish in an excellent journal and, most importantly, carefully model the spatial diffusion of infectious diseases in a globalized world.

 

How would you have gone about collecting the outbreaks data if the GIDEON database did not exist? 

One possibility would have been to exploit the Global Burden of Disease data. However, despite the provider’s best efforts, the reliability of these data remains uncertain, and diseases are aggregated in relatively coarse categories.

 

In your article, you mentioned the GIDEON database is under-exploited – do you believe it could further contribute to the field of Economics and how? 

Infectious diseases have now become a hot topic in Economics. For various reasons, including data availability, the effects of many diseases were neglected. I hope that my use of the GIDEON database will alert researchers to this incredible information source and encourage more epidemiological research.

 

Click here to read the open-access article Spatial dynamics of major infectious diseases outbreaks: A global empirical assessment

 

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