Research Papers

SARS: First Pandemic of the 21st Century

December 2005

Infectious disease and related health concerns have rarely found a place in the national security discourse in the past. Of late, the issue has assumed prominence and managed to enter into the national security debate. Disease spread poses a threat to human security and national security. The entire gamut of human security and public health concerns rests on the proposition that ‘it could seriously threaten both the individual and quality of life that a person is able to attain within a given society, polity or state’.The argument that the transnational spread of disease poses a threat to (human) security is validated by recent developments, such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the spread, and virulence of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases (ERIDs), the threat of bioterrorism and epidemics that weaken fragile state structures.

The emergence of infectious diseases on the global agenda highlights the discovery of new disease agents, the growing antibiotic resistance and the devastating impact of epidemics—cholera in Latin America, plague in India, the Ebola virus in Africa, and most recently severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) which has transcended national boundaries and taken the form of a global pandemic in 2003. This paper focuses on the outbreak of SARS as the first pandemic of the 21st century reviews the causes and course of the disease and explores key lessons learnt from the outbreak that might shape the future of infectious disease control.


The paper was originally published in Chari, P.R. & Chandran, S. (2005), Bioterrorism and Biodefence, Manohar, New Delhi.

Book Chapter: "SARS: First Pandemic of the Twenty-First Century" (Compressed version uploaded on April 02, 2020). 



Author Note
Animesh Roul, Executive Director, Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict, New Delhi.