Rational disease control can only be undertaken once both biological understanding of the pathogen and appropriate technologies for control have been developed. Once the biological capability is present, the decision on whether to control or eliminate is political and economic, but implementation falls to some combination of farmers and government, based on legal frameworks available. The general options for disease management – doing nothing, control, or elimination – depend for their success on the distribution of compliance, interaction with other policy (e.g. farm subsidies, fiscal measures, information strategies) and stakeholder understanding. There is currently no agreed framework for decisions and each infection is treated as a separate entity. Consequently, the following questions naturally arise.
What are the best frameworks for understanding endemic disease control? Non-linear political and economic influences should be integrated into predictive epidemiological frameworks. These should be tested and feedbacks of decision making and economics included in the modelling process. Some of these measurements are qualitative whilst others are quantitative, but in principle it should be possible – and in ideal practice it is necessary – to combine both in overarching frameworks.
Can we improve the current frameworks? Pre-existing knowledge and epidemiological data can be combined with novel data about how farmers perceive disease and choose their actions. It should be possible to use different frameworks, incorporating many diseases, to evaluate a range of control approaches.
What factors determine farmer decision making processes, and what are their impacts? Economic analysis can be used to identify the economic incentives operating on farmers and other stakeholders in the food chain. This can in turn be used to interpret their behaviours and through interdisciplinary work these behaviours can then be folded back into both epidemiological models and political models.
How can this understanding be used to drive disease control? Once the drivers and feedbacks between decision making, economics and epidemiology are identified, it should be possible to understand the type of incentives necessary to ensure stake-holder compliance and more effective control. Conversely, the factors influencing stakeholder compliance should be taken into account when designing and assessing policy mechanisms to improve control. Such information can significantly enhance the success of policy initiatives designed to improve the control of endemic livestock disease.
The outputs from such studies have the potential to provide all stakeholders with a better understanding of drivers of endemic disease control and more effective policy frameworks for tackling a range of such diseases.