Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Swine Flu—the panicdemic

- Meghna Dasgupta (M.A. Economics, I Year)

It was on an aeroplane,when the person sitting two rows back cleared his throat making me strain my neck and look nervously at him, that it struck me. WHO's declaration that we were on the verge of a pandemic had made us completely paranoid.Ever since, we rush to the nearest hospital if we wake up with a slightly scratchy throat.We look warily at our relatives who have just flown in from the U.S and other major swine flu affected areas.We have started shunning shopping malls,wearing surgical masks on the streets and forbidden our children from going to school.But why is everyone panicking so much? Why is the media giving it so much attention?

Closely examining the two questions one can see that the argument is circular. It is because all the news channels,desperate for a story amid the August doldrums, latched on to it and played the gory details of the story over and over again that there was widespread panic.And it was because there was widespread panic that the media got an incentive to continue playing the swine flu story over and over again.The hype fed on the fear and the fear fed on the hype, keeping the cycle running.

But the swine flu panic is not just a media generated syndrome.Science with its apparent competence tends to lull us into false sense of security, making us stupidly but understandably believe that we are in complete control of our surroundings.So it is not suprising that unexpected events completely derail us;as it happened in the case of the swine flu.No one saw it coming.So when it did strike there was complete chaos.Once it started,the epidemic spread with a universality and an unpredictability that had us holding our breaths to see who its next victim would be.As death tolls creeped higher and higher the fear completely debilitated us,stopping us from finding out what the disease was really about.We reacted irrationally to every piece of information that filtered in ,not checking to see once if it was accurate or not.If it was circulated that the swine flu happened from eating pork,we stopped eating pork.If it was heard that surgical masks kept the disease at bay,we bought them by the dozen little knowing that they would only serve to keep us safe from those who were infected and not from the infection itself. We became blind to the fact that in India more people die from diarrhoea and Tuberculosis every single day than the total number who have died due to the disease all over the world. We thronged the hospitals not realising that even if we had a case of common cold we could contract the 'real' disease being in a roomful of sick people.

All this is not to trivialise the disease and admittedly at some levels the fear is justified. Till date there is no full vaccine in place for combating the disease. Moreover the virus causing swine flu is known to mutate to become more virulent and probably less susceptible to anti flu vaccines. However it is imperative that we realise that no constructive solution could possibly come out of running about the streets screaming about swine flu especially in a developing country like India where the health sector is already under strain. Awareness, little precautions (like washing your hands before eating, eating a proper diet etc) and an ounce of calm can go a long way in combating against a disease that as accepted by the health minister, Ghulam Azad too is "here to stay".


Nithyanand said...

You've rightly pointed out that vastly more number of people in India die every year from preventable diseases like TB and diarrhoea.In fact,4 lakh people die in India of TB every year.But this is not on the media radar,while swine flu is.Why? It's simple.Swine flu flew to India with American desis.It affected the upper and middle classes first,before affecting the local population here.The poor,who die of hunger and the shocking number of children stunted by malnutrition never get mentioned in the mainstream media.Some are more equal than others.....

Nithyanand said...

But there's a statement in your article to which I object;which is,"Science,with its apparent competence,tends to lull us into false sense of security...complete control of our surroundings.."

I'm afraid I fail to see how this can possibly be true.If anything,science tells us that we are NOT in ANY control of our surroundings,and that much more of our lives and the universe at large,is ruled by chance,and random occurrences than we think.We have very limited in our control over nature and it is impossible to predict the onset of diseases like swine-flu.The only thing that can be done is to contain and try and find cures/vaccinations.