Health Security and Risk Aversion

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Health security has become a popular way of justifying efforts to control catastrophic threats to public health. Unfortunately, there has been little analysis of the concept of health security, nor the relationship between health security and other potential aims of public health policy. In this paper I develop an account of health security as an aversion to risky policy options. I explore three reasons for thinking risk avoidance is a distinctly worthwhile aim of public health policy: (i) that security is intrinsically valuable, (ii) that it is necessary for social planning and (iii) that it is an appropriate response to decision-making in contexts of very limited information. Striking the right balance between securing and maximizing population health thus requires a substantive, and hitherto unrecognized, value judgment. Finally, I critically evaluate the current health security agenda in light of this new account of the concept and its relationship to the other aims of public health policy.

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