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A Little Calm and A Lot of Awareness - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Last week I wrote an article entitled ‘Swine Flu…How Can We Deal With this Danger?’ The responses to the article varied; there was a mix of concern and rumors, exaggeration, blame, and lack of understanding of the illness and ways to prevent catching it.

In my opinion, the most useful response came from Dr. Khaled Mirghalani, the official spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Health, who called me to comment on my article about swine flu, as he explained the efforts that were being exerted by the health ministry in this regard and highlighted the facts of the matter.

I asked Dr. Khaled Mirghalani why those who had recovered from the illness were not talking to the media in order to reassure people. His answer was surprising. He said that some people “are asking us to protect them – as if it were some kind of disgrace – until after they recover.”

With news that 11 people had died [after catching swine flu] in Saudi Arabia, I asked Dr Khaled Mirghalani about the number of cases of swine flu in the country, how many people had recovered from the illness and why nobody is highlighting this. He said, “The official number of cases has reached 1000,” (and this might be announced today) adding that “95 percent of those people recovered.” However, he also stated that the media “is more interested in reporting the deaths than the recoveries.” Sadly, this is the truth.

As mentioned in the previous article, there is exaggeration in the way the media deals with the issue of swine flu. For example there are calls for people to remain in their homes to avoid catching the illness, knowing that America, for example, decided to reconsider closing schools if a pupil catches swine flu. Also, regarding these exaggerations and the ignorance of how to protect oneself against swine flu, people are asking if hospitals will be able to cope with the number of swine flu sufferers. It is common knowledge that those with swine flu should stay at home and isolate themselves in one room, and have medicine sent to them. They should not enter any hospital unless they have another condition and fear for their wellbeing.

But amid this worrying atmosphere, there was one story with a happy ending; a Saudi woman from Riyadh who contracted swine flu gave birth, and her and her baby were in good health after the birth, thank God. It is a global situation, and not only a Saudi one, as pregnant women are who we fear for the most.

We do not want to paint a rosy picture of the situation but more importantly, actually most importantly, we want to remind people once again that the best way to deal with the swine flu pandemic is through prevention. The role of the media is to raise awareness, and to answer peoples’ questions and to put them at ease by educating the general public on the nature of the illness and on the best ways to protect oneself from it, such as washing one’s hands and sneezing into a tissue, and on the symptoms of the illness and so on.

This is our role, and this is what the media is doing in all countries around the world. Instead of spreading rumors, the general public must rely on trustworthy sources, and must not get its information from internet websites under false [domain] names. One can obtain important information from the websites of health ministries including that of Saudi Arabia, and from the World Health Organization website and the websites of respectable publications that do not resort to fear-mongering.

What is certain today in dealing with this epidemic is that all countries are turning towards prevention and raising awareness to fight this epidemic, and we ask God to protect us all from harm.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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