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Swine Flu…How Can We Deal With This Danger? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In a gathering with friends in the state of Virginia the talk turned to the swine flu pandemic and the best way to deal with this, particularly in Saudi Arabia, as a result of the Hajj and Umrah season. Much of the talk criticized the media coverage, on the grounds that it was fear-mongering rather than spreading awareness [of the disease].

I believe that this view is correct, for with extensive reading of the situation – not just in Saudi Arabia – those following up on this [crisis] know that the dangers of the swine flu pandemic can be best handled by [raising] awareness rather than by fear-mongering.

While researching this article I came across two newspaper headlines that prove this; the first reads “Swine Flu Hits British Work Sector” while the second headline reads “Swine Flu Dramatically Decreases in Britain.”

The first headline has nothing to do with the spread of the disease, rather the [article] is about employers fears that some employees in Britain will use the pandemic as a pretext to be absent from work. This [headline] is connected to British Labor Laws being exploited by some as a means for absenteeism, and has nothing to do with the disease itself.

What we are in need of, specifically with regards to the media, is to educate the public on how best to deal with this pandemic. Instead of eulogizing that those who die as a result of this pandemic are martyrs, we must tell them how Britain was able to reduce the number of people infected with swine flu from 100,00 to 30,000, and how China, despite its massive population, was able to control this pandemic.

In Britain, for example, those who are suspected of being infected with swine flu are asked not to go to health centers or hospitals, but rather to stay at home and telephone a free number where they will be offered advice and then prescribed the appropriate treatment. Prior to this, the symptoms of the disease and how to avoid it should be explained to the public, from washing ones hands carefully to covering one’s mouth and nose with a tissue when sneezing. These things were explained to the [British] public in a huge advertising campaign, via the television, newspapers, pamphlets, and posters. Leaflets that explained how to avoid infection, and how to deal with this should it occur were also distributed by post to every house in Britain.

Of course the Saudi Minister of Health has every right to say that this year will be an exception for Saudi Arabia with regards to the Hajj and Umrah season, and therefore there must be a significant campaign to raise awareness of the disease and its symptoms, as well as how treat it directly.

This is the most effective way [to deal with the pandemic] and it is specifically up to us in the media to implement this, rather than merely dealing with the mortality rate or being preoccupied with dramatic headlines. The people are more in need of those who will raise awareness [of the pandemic] because prevention is better than cure.

This lack of experience is present not only in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world, for even in California almost 100 nurses went out to demonstrate against the lack of training and equipment to deal with the pandemic, as this could endanger their lives.

Therefore we need to manage this crisis in a professional manner, and put more effort into raising awareness [of the pandemic] by way of mutual cooperation, both in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world, especially since Saudi Arabia is in the unenviable position of receiving hajj pilgrims from all across the globe.

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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