The HIV/AIDS Link
It should be noted that H5N1 would initially strike a similar population to one currently victimized by HIV/AIDS, namely Asia. Given the weakened state of their immune system, HIV+ individuals would almost certainly die from exposure to H5N1. Organizations concerned with fighting AIDS must therefore also devote a significant amount of attention to the H5N1 threat.
Any discussion of how H5N1 pertains to national security must apply the lessons of the relatively slow threat of HIV/AIDS to a much faster H5N1 capable of human-to-human transfer. See Laurie Garrett’s article “The Lessons of HIV/AIDS” in the July/August 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs for more on this topic.
Also related: The 2005 Review of UN Resolution 1308 on the HIV/AIDS threat to global stability and security.
The Lessons of SARS
In the case of the SARS epidemic, the impacts of the actual public health threat and the subsequent $40 billion of economic losses in the Asia-Pacific region over six months were insignificant compared to the political implications of the PRC’s failure to allay panic through the withholding of information from its people.
The immediate public health threat, namely the possible millions of deaths worldwide, should not be the only concern. Even a moderate pandemic would result in economic losses too vast to imagine. Entire industries would be destroyed (not simply farming), international borders would close, medical costs would skyrocket, and most importantly, the largest productivity drop in modern history would occur.
These factors would inevitably cause worldwide panic. Panic from the public halfway around the world that watches cable news, panic from big business, and panic from governments. The security concerns involved are too far-reaching to estimate.