IMANI Alert: This “Swine Flu” Hysteria!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Purveyors of fine pork and sausages are up in arms in many of our towns and cities. But what are our so-called experts doing about it?

The inaptly named “swine flu” is to be blamed.

Though nearly every authoritative organization, from the World Health Organisation to the United States Department of Agriculture to the redoubtable Center for Diseases Control, has counseled against the continued use of the term “swine flu” to refer to the H1N1 flu syndrome, the Media, particularly in our part of the world continue to insist on calling it Swine Flu.

No matter how many times experts emphasize that the disease has next to

nothing to do with eating pork items, and that no significant herds of pig in any part of the world have so far succumbed to this particular strain of influenza, our media people still keep agitating the minds of consumers. 

But we don’t blame the journalists. We blame our local experts for not vociferously and aggressively correcting public misperceptions about the situation. The health ministry did not help matters when it issued the morbid directive that importation of pork be stopped. This is fast becoming a dangerous trend in Ghanaian society: the ceding of public dialogue to media on the one side and vested interests on the other, while informed, objective, observers reclusively muse over their graphs in air-conditioned cubicles, more often than not for use in presentations at conferences abroad. Then they turn around and bash the media for lowering the quality of “public discourse”!

But to return to H1NI: it’s about time the hype subsided, together with the hysteria, consumer panic, and growing stockpiles of unsold pork delicacies.

In a detailed assessment of the situation last week, the Center for Disease Control affirmed what many experts had already been saying: the H1N1 strain of influenza is no more dangerous than the common flu. The number of people, who will die from it, as it spreads worldwide, is unlikely to exceed the average for more common strains of influenza. Here, we are on accord with our friend, the polymath Mark Anderson.

The exceptional intensity of the Mexican situation is due to peculiar local conditions. In just the same manner that while there is a chronic cholera pandemic across Africa, the acute epidemic in Zimbabwe hardly portended a rise in mortality from cholera across continent, much less the world.

Already, things have improved significantly in Mexico, and there’s no

indication of an upsurge whether there or anywhere else.

Dr. Larry Smarr and Dr. Larry Brilliant, both renowned epidemiologists have dampened the hysteria with some cold, empirical, sanity (for context, click here)

Indeed the current flu burden in most places around the world, not to even talk about flu-related deaths, has barely adjusted from the typical average for the current season.

We shouldn’t ruin livelihoods because our experts are as usual musing on the heraldry of international citations in their ivory towers rather than catering to their public education mandate.

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