Interactive Case Study: The SARS Epidemic
International Dimensions of Ethics Education Case Study Series
Between the months of November 2002 and July 2003 there was a global scale pandemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Within a matter of weeks SARS spread from the Guangdong province of China to rapidly infect individuals in some 37 countries around the world. Worldwide, there were 8,096 known cases and 774 deaths listed by the World Health Organization (WHO). Controversy erupted when it was discovered that Chinese scientists and engineers, under constraints imposed explicitly or implicitly by the Chinese government, did not at first report information about the possible epidemic to WHO authorities. In the spring of 2003, the Chinese began providing more information to WHO and subsequently revised their policies for dealing with large scale outbreaks of infectious diseases. In exploring the perspective of various stakeholders and why they made certain decisions at various stages, this case illustrates how differences in cultural norms can lead to unexpected consequences. As WHO policies were improved as a result of this pandemic, the case also illustrates how international bodies respond and adapt to real and potential global crises.