The Disease Outbreak-Human Trafficking Connection: A Missed Opportunity

Health Secur. May/Jun 2019;17(3):181-192. doi: 10.1089/hs.2018.0134. Epub 2019 Jun 7.


This article examines the connection between disease outbreaks and human trafficking. A central challenge in combating trafficking is poor data on its nature and scope. One way to deal with these gaps in knowledge and still target resources effectively is to identify key "push and pull" factors that increase the likelihood of trafficking from origin countries and to destination countries. One under-examined push factor is the outbreak of disease. Outbreaks are associated with several well-documented trafficking risk factors, from the breakdown of rule of law and increase in criminal activity to competition for resources and diminished economic opportunity. Disease outbreaks can also disrupt family ties. For example, the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa left thousands of orphans at increased risk of exploitation. The article outlines possible mechanisms through which outbreaks could increase trafficking risk and, using data on disease outbreaks and trafficking across states over the past 2 decades, provides evidence that countries that have recently experienced a disease outbreak are more likely to have trafficking outflows. The findings point to the importance of integrating trafficking prevention into outbreak response and call for a research agenda more fully examining the connection between trafficking and outbreaks (and potentially other types of natural disasters as well).

Keywords: Human trafficking; Infectious diseases; International coordination; Outbreak preparedness and response.

MeSH terms

  • Child, Orphaned
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Human Trafficking / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Human Trafficking / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Models, Statistical
  • Politics
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors