Rapid Urbanization and Infectious Disease Outbreaks: The Case of Avian Influenza in Vietnam


This is a listing of older East-West Center events (newer listed first).  See Events to get the list of current or upcoming events.

When: Sep 17 2013 - 10:30am until Sep 17 2013 - 12:00pm
Where: 1819 L St, NW, Washington, DC. Sixth Floor Conference Room

Rapid Urbanization and Infectious Disease Outbreaks: The Case of Avian Influenza in Vietnam

An Asia-Pacific Political Economy Seminar featuring:

Dr. Melissa Finucane

Senior Fellow, East-West Center, Honolulu
Senior Social and Behavior Scientist, RAND Corporation

Dr. James H. Spencer

Adjunct Fellow, East-West Center, Honolulu
Chair, Department of Planning, Development, and Preservation; Clemson University

(Left to Right) Dr. James Spencer, Dr. Melissa Finucane, and Dr. Satu Limaye at the East-West Center in Washington

The global trend in urbanization is increasingly toward the “peri-urban,” areas that are unserviced and densely populated. Does increased human and animal density without good urban planning and design explain the emergence of new and reemerging infectious diseases in such areas? Are disease outbreaks in valuable livestock populations more common in the least developed areas? Or does the risk increase as the countryside transitions into city?

To answer these questions, Dr. Melissa Finucane and Dr. James H. Spencer examined the link between multifaceted man-made environmental changes and outbreaks of avian influenza in poultry in Vietnam, where the “bird-flu” has caused widespread economic damage. Presenting the results of their field research, as part of a five-year study on urbanization and the outbreak and control of communicable disease, they intended to highlight the importance of understanding environmental transformation and coupled natural-human systems so that planners and policy makers can manage diseases effectively in rapidly changing places.

Dr. Spencer began the program by explaining the differing stages of urbanization in Vietnam, emphasizing that as the population shifts to the cities, there are many "periurban areas" where municipal, health, and sanitation services have not yet caught up to the increased populations. By comparing the instances of avian flu outbreak in these transitional areas with rural districts and fully urban centers, it was these "urbanizating" districts where the cases of of the illness in poultry stocks were the highest. They found that in these periurban areas there was plenty of contact between humans and animals, and little in terms of regulation or education on how to safely conduct that contact.

Dr. Finucane described the second objective of the project: to understand the lay perceptions of the disease, its transmission, and its control. Overall, most community members surveyed in the study thought that the bird flu was a rural issue, despite the study's findings. Where a community sat on the "rural-urban" continuum also colored how locals perceived the disease and their ability to resist its impact. Rural poultry farmers for instance were more likely to see the disease as an old-ill, and feel less confident of their ability to control it through vaccination or quarantine of their flocks. Moving up the urbanization scale however, respondents tended to feel at lesser risk, and better equipped to deal with the disease. This suggests that a one-size fits all strategy toward mitigating the disease risk does not work.

Additional photos from this program can be found in the East-West Center's Flickr Gallery.

Dr. Melissa Finucane is a Senior Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, and Senior Social and Behavioral Scientist at RAND Corporation, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her interdisciplinary and policy-oriented research focuses on understanding the human dimensions of environmental and health risks in the Asia-Pacific region. Dr. Finucane has received support for research from NOAA, National Science Foundation, National institutes of Health, and other organizations. She received an M.Psych and a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Western Australia.

Dr. James H. Spencer is the incoming Chair of Clemson University’s Department of Planning, Development, and Preservation, and an Adjunct Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu. He was recently Associate Professor of Urban & Regional Planning, and of Political Science at the University of Hawai‘i. Dr. Spencer has held staff positions at the Ford Foundation and non-profit organizations working on community development, and provided technical support for communities in Southeast Asia and Hawai‘i. His current research focuses on international urbanization and planning issues, with a particular focus on the urban transition, water supplies, infrastructure and inequality. He received a Masters of Environmental Management from Yale University, and a PhD from UCLA in Urban Planning.

Primary Contact Info:
Name: Grace Ruch
Phone: 202-327-9762