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Strict quarantine rules to contain Ebola may have undesirable consequences

Research from City University London and the Toulouse School of Economics indicates that too strict rules on quarantine and containing Ebola may incentivise potential patients to keep it quiet if they know they may have been exposed to the virus.


In addition, the risk that they may flee from the epicentre of the outbreak increases when harsh quarantine measures are put in place. 


Policy-makers must consider this risk when designing measures to contain Ebola and need to take into account the potential behavioural responses of individuals who may choose where they live as a response to policies and to the difference in rates of disease between locations. 


The paper was authored by Dr Alice Mesnard, City University London and Professor Paul Seabright, The Toulouse School of Economics. 


Dr Mesnard says: “ Our research shows that very strict quarantine measures may encourage individuals to behave in a less collaborative way in tackling the disease. They may be less likely to tell friends, family and public health officials if they have been potentially exposed to Ebola, for fear they may be quarantined in one of the large centres that are appearing all over West Africa at the moment. Unfortunately, due to the nature of Ebola and the high death rates associated with the disease, imposing quarantine on individuals in what they perceive as ‘death camps’, may encourage them to flee the area and spread the disease further.”


The full paper By Mesnard and Seabright, ‘Escaping infectious diseases through migration? Quarantine measures under incomplete information about infection risk,’ was published in Journal of Public Economics, 2009, 93 pp 931-938.

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