Control of Infections: Perception of Risks and Political Agenda for Providing a Public Good

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Hein
2016 - 2019
Leibniz Research Alliance "Infections 21", German Research Foundation (DFG, in preparation)

Dr. Julian Eckl (member of the project), Politikwissenschaft, Universität Hamburg

Anne Paschke (member of the project), Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaften, Universität Hamburg

Members of the Leibniz Research Alliance "Infections 21" (led by Research Center Borstel)



Research Questions
The control of infectious diseases constitutes a public good (non-excludable/non-rivalrous); its provision depends upon non-profit seeking, mostly public investments, and thus upon political decisions. We expect that effective policies of infectious disease control depend (a) on the level of attention by the public and by policy makers to the threat of infectious diseases and (b) on the availability of cost-effective means to provide protection against these diseases.

The project team tests the assumption that political commitment and innovative efforts (such as monitoring of international mobility; identification of pathogens and of transmission paths; the development of vaccines and antimicrobial medicines) in this field respond to cycles of public attention related to the outbreak and assumed risk of epidemics. Research is based on German policies of infectious disease control with a strong focus of their embeddedness in global developments. Being part of the multidisciplinary Leibniz Research Alliance (LRA) the project closely cooperates with biomedical research institutes as well as a number of other disciplines within the research groups. These research groups are organised according to different ways of transmission (man-to-man; air; water; vectors) to which also policies of disease control are linked (e.g.: man-to-man transmission and international mobility).

Contribution to International Research
As part of the LRA, the research project is linked to various activities of international cooperation (among others with two colleagues from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) and introduces a perspective of policy field analysis in international discourses so far dominated by biomedical and public health discourses. The approach will link-up with a growing volume of research on global public goods for health (see: work by Richard D. Smith and Ilona Kickbusch) applying the concept to the field of infection control.

Research Design and Methods
Based on expert interviews and desk research; analysis based on semi-structured interviews with asylum-seekers (infected with Tuberculosis) and “citizen science” to detect the appearance of new insect species as vectors transmitting infectious diseases by other researchers of the LRA.

Preliminary Results
Research has confirmed the link between attention to the threat of infectious diseases due to outbreaks of diseases and political reactions in specific cases (Ebola: Analysis of internet materials on the West-African crisis and the reaction of the international community, Tuberculosis: migration and the again growing incidence of Tuberculosis in Western Europe; outbreaks of legionellosis and public demands for the control of cooling-towers); furthermore different strategies of tuberculosis controls have been compared and linked to the TB situation in the immigrant’s home countries. Outbreaks of legionellosis produce a normally short-lived attention which appears to be not sufficient for attaining effective political regulations (paper by Anne Paschke). Preliminary results were presented at an international conference in London (“After the End of Diseases”, Royal College of Medicine, May 25-27, 2016).