The World Health Organization(WHO) has recently released a report entitled “Epidemics and Communication guidelines.” The report contains several lessons learned through a series of global health crisis such as mad cow disease and SARS. It says, in a nutshell, “In order to prevent a terrible epidemic, a country should win supports from its people by ensuring transparent communication and paving the way to public participation. The foremost players in such action are the government and the media.

However, what has the government and the media been doing during the recent avian flu outbreak? Let’s take a look at the governmet first. “Our people armed with excellent medical care system don’t need to worry about the avian flu virus. It’s not true that the virus bears any resemblance to the virus that led to the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic that killed tens of thousands of people,” said a government official in an interview. In the meantime, the WHO and other European countries are raising their vigilance against the bird flu virus. Is that because their medical system is poorer than that of us?

What frightens people most is that the avian influenza virus is disturbingly similar to the virus that caused the Spanish flu epidemic and that beginning the late 20th century viruses usually infecting animals tend to mutate and strike down human kind. In that sense, the chances of the bird flu virus affecting human beings cannot be easily neglected.

While the government tries to hide the problems, the media is only to contribute to the creation of terror among the public by excessively emphasizing the number of deaths caused by the virus. The virus may not mutate to infect human beings and even so, the infection could be mild. Or vaccines could fight the virus.

Whenever food or health issues are brought up, the government has sticked to its cliché that “There will no problem. Even if its does, the government can deal with it.” But that has not been the case. Rather the government has got better results when it sought support from its nation through dialogue. Wasn’t it successful when it allowed people to decide whether to have a nuclear disposal site or not?

When it comes to the media, it has to provide balanced information, not just the worst case of events. Of course, the change should be preceded by the government disclosing all relevent information. Then cooperation among all parts of society will be possible. That is the only way we can handle a catastrophic health crisis if it becomes a reality.

Thank you for you comments in advance. :)