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Economic epidemiology in evidence

Cepea performs studies to evaluate economic and socioenvironmental impacts of health and plant health problems, as well as policies to prevent and control pests and diseases. Differently from most economic studies, the major challenge in this subject is the need to associate models of economic analysis to biological models, which describe dissemination patterns of diseases and pests.

 

Researchers have started to perform these studies by developing an instrument of economic analysis that could be applied, in general, to Pest Risk Analysis (PRA). PRA is a risk management tool required to evaluate the risk of pests when vegetable products are imported, such as wheat, fruits, seeds and others.

 

The United States, the United Kingdom and Australia are pioneers on applying instruments of economic analysis to agricultural defense policies, generating studies that have become references and are still incipient in developing countries. Cases such as foot-and-mouth disease, food contamination by salmonellosis, avian influenza and, more recently, African Swine Fever (ASF) are some examples of the most emblematic cases that researchers study in economic epidemiology.

 

In the plant health field, in the middle of the 1990s, the dispute on Mexican avocado exports to the US, due to pests in Mexico, resulted in interesting studies, with economic analysis that helped solving the controversy and opening the US market.

 

Several other cases are economically relevant; however, mainstream researchers in the economic science usually do not take a closer look at them.

 

It is the case of fruit flies, which affect Brazilian exports of mango, grape, papaya and guava, increasing production, post-harvest and trading costs, because they demand specific certification standards. There are some cases that face long processes, such as the Japanese market opening to mango exports from Brazil, which took more than a decade.

 

There are even situations that involve the preservation of agricultural and farming economies in states. Studies performed by Cepea, in a partnership with Fundecitrus, measured economic impacts that prevention and control measures for Huanglonbing (greening) and citrus canker, in São Paulo state, intended to avoid.

 

One of the lessons learned from these studies was that prevention costs less than the curative control in mid and long-terms. For citrus canker, this has been shown clearly, with more benefits for prevention strategies compared to curative scenarios. Prevention is better than cure also for avian influenza, due to the possible impacts of this disease on the poultry sector in Brazil.

 

More frequently, demands for studies that evaluate problems like these come from public defense agencies and class and sectoral entities, aiming scientific support for economic analysis, using instruments that allow quantifying the health quality and policies for its monitoring.

 

Several studies performed by Cepea indicate that, in general, despite methodological difficulties and lack of data, benefits surpass economic costs.

 

Cepea monitored, through analyzing production costs structures for some grains, impacts of the main pests, allowing to evaluate a land-saving effect. In other words, if chemical control products were used correctly, productivity losses that are avoided would indirectly prevent future pressure on land use. This behavior is very unlikely at the field. However, with more investment on health and environmental education and some control instruments, the land-saving effect is possible, keeping producers’ income and resulting in a more sustainable chemical control.

 

Economic analyses associated to the analysis of biological and productive impacts are not common in the Brazilian economic research agenda. In technical areas, the disease is treated in its epidemiological aspects, control and prevention methods and impacts on the productive system; however, compared to other countries, little progress has been made in applying models to evaluate socioeconomic impacts and risks from diseases and pests.

 

This might be a result of communication difficulties among different knowledge areas, or lack of maturity to understand these challenges and their importance to society. In any case, in some moments, society is closer to this reality and requires answers, which had already happened when BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and avian influenza occurred. Because they are animal diseases that can be transmitted to men, they raised concerns from public and private institutions engaged in production.

 

Now, economic epidemiology has becoming closer to citizens in general, in Brazil and in the world, in a scenario that may transform habits, leading to a greater focus on hygiene and public health issues. It is clear that the current public health crisis has brought consciousness on economic problems that it generates. These hard lessons will certainly lead society to the need of allocating resources to fields like this, in order to face the crisis.

 

Globalization, understood here as the intensification of the flow of goods, financial and people resources, increases the risks of transmitting diseases and pests across the globe and accelerates the dissemination process of problems not only for human health, but also for animals and plants. The planning should focus on strengthening structures of monitoring, laboratory technology, education and training. It needs to be wide to face this new world of challenges that no longer requires the compartmentalization of knowledge, but a transversal vision that accepts challenges of the interaction among different areas of knowledge, necessary to face complex dilemmas and problems that society will continue to face.

 

Brazil is a major food producer, and the development of studies and public planning on agricultural and farming defense and on the prevention of diseases may increase in the coming years. We hope to see the valuation of professionals that quietly work, research and study to avoid catastrophes in the national food system.

 

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