Swine Flu....H1N1.... teaches us a lesson

I am writing this post from the "epicentre" (as the TV anchor describes) of Swine Flu in India, Pune. Ever since the first death (a school girl) due to H1N1 virus was reported from Pune, there has been an increase in the number of cases tested positive for H1N1 virus as well as the number of deaths in Pune (the 11th death in India was announced last night from Pune). The TV anchors have a "lead news" and fill their time with reports on H1N1 from all over India; they appear to be experts in every field related to H1N1 and throw, for the sake of authenticity, a few medical doctors, in between, to support their views. The result is that there is panic everywhere. The hospitals that are supposed to help test for H1N1 are flooded with people - resulting in chaos and, of course, fighting !!! Only those who had stood in queues in India would appreciate the difficulties encountered by law-abiding citizens. They are always the last to reach the post....there are smart guys who know how to break the queue and get to the post first.

The TV coverage has really created a panic....everyone who goes to these hospitals wear a mask (whether it is effective or not is another question)...one can see at least 20 % of the people on the streets wear mask. The guy who sells these masks at the traffic junctions has been having brisk business. Those who do not wear mask cover their nose and mouth with their clothes (like hand-kerchief, dupatta etc.). The Police Commissioners office, especially the Foreigner Registration office, has mandated wearing the mask before entering its premises !!!

Government has ordered the closure of schools and colleges for a week. Malls and Cinema Halls have been ordered to close down for three days. People have been advised to stay at home and not to venture into public places. They say that the virus is out there everywhere; it is no more required to have a body contact or a close (1 metre) contact, it can catch you anywhere...because it is there in the air (you breath)....Some state Governments have issued advisories to its citizens not to travel to Maharashtra (where Pune is situated).

While I appreciate the role of media in informing people of the H1N1 virus, I am a little concerend about the "hype" and "panic" created by media among people with no or little knowledge about the Flu. Overall, I see a positive effect: at least people are taking preventive actions (whether effective or not) or sensitized to take preventive action.

Swine Flu is probably a one time affair and short lived (say for a couple of months). TVs have spent quite a lot of time on this - justifying the same quoting 11 deaths and potential deaths in the future.

I don't see the same vigour when it comes to, say, road accidents. Pune had reported every year almost about 400-500 fatalities per year on its roads; these could have been avoided by just wearing Helmets or following traffic rules. I don't see any media campaign on this. Hardly any TV news covers this aspect - as it has lost its novelty as a news item....every day someone dies in the road accident...what is new about it ?

When people que up at the Hospitals for fear of H1N1, why not they wear Helmets to save themselves from certain death ? I believe that it is the fear of the "unknown" virus that makes people to rush to hospitals, wear masks and stay at home. When it comes to driving two wheelers or four wheelers everyone thinks that he / she controls the process....till he/she loses control, which most of the times results in death.

Government spends a lot of money to control H1N1 from spreading...it is no doubt a good initiative (probably they should have spent more in preventing it from entering India)....if they spend at least a fraction of that on Roads and traffic issues they would be saving more lives from traffic accidents.

(Please don't mistake me - H1N1 is an important issue and deserves Media coverage; but there are other equally important issues which are not glamourous for the Media to cover...this post is an expression of that concern)

PS: Immediately after posting this blog I opened the Indian CNN site; the news is that the death toll due to H1N1 had gone up to 14 and the President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, has been affected by H1N1.
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