Avian Flu: The Challenge Ahead

Apr 20, 2006
B-339 Rayburn House Office Building


Dr. Tyler Cowen
General Director of the Mercatus Center &
Holbert C. Harris Chair of Economics
George Mason University

For the last three decades, national and international public health authorities have periodically stated that the world is "overdue" for an outbreak of pandemic disease. With daily reports of its progress around the globe, many experts believe that the H5N1 virus could be "the one."

The spread of the H5N1 strain has resulted in the destruction of more than 140 million birds across Asia, threatening the livelihoods of many poultry farmers in the affected countries. There have now been almost 200 confirmed cases in humans, resulting in over 100 deaths. The virus has spread outside of Southeast Asia through wild migratory birds that have now infected domestic poultry in Russia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and most recently the Middle East. Most experts agree that it is only a matter of time before the virus reaches our shores.

While this particular strand of avian influenza may never mutate into a form that would create a human pandemic, policymakers still need to be prepared for that possibility. In order to discuss the difficult choices of the challenges ahead, Capitol Hill Campus will host a special lecture by Mercatus Center General Director Dr. Tyler Cowen. The seminar will examine the role of the federal government and measures Congress can take in preparation for, and in response to, a pandemic flu outbreak. It will also focus on what the lessons of economics can teach us about the most effective way to prepare for a public health crisis.

Participants in this course will address such questions as:

  • What are possible measures that the federal government can take to help secure public health and safety?
  • How important is it to create stockpiles of vaccines and antivirals?
  • What incentives can we provide to Asian and other countries to assist in improving their surveillance abilities?