What is it with health ministries, that they so rarely follow through? They report a new case of some dangerous disease with all the enthusiasm of someone passing a kidney stone. Then they fall silent until the next stone comes down the chute.
China has enjoyed some praise for its transparency about H7N9, and the Saudis have taken flak for their relative lack of it about MERS. But neither nation's health ministry has shown any interest in serious updates. They're not the only ones.
For example, how many MERS and H7N9 cases are still in hospital undergoing treatment, and how are they doing? I have no idea. Nor do I know how the two new H5N1 cases are doing in Cambodia; at least Dr. Beat Richner gave us a brief update the other day, but the Cambodian Ministry of Health sticks to reports of confirmations and deaths.
Don't get me going about cholera in Cuba, which actually makes Haiti's MSPP look good by comparison. The Cubans, with more stubbornness than intelligence, continue to deny they've got it even as Latin American tourists return from Cuba with Vibrio cholerae in their guts.
The MSPP at least pretends to report on its own cholera cases, however slowly and unreliably. But it too offers no follow-up: nothing about the condition of recovered cases, nothing about improvements (or the lack of them) in sanitation, and certainly no analysis of the progress of the disease in almost three years.
Apparently the only malaise truly dreaded by politicians and health bureaucrats is terminal embarrassment: They hate to have some unpleasant new disease turn up on their watch. Even if it kills only a handful of their people, it makes them look dumb at the next conference.
And of course the UN and the World Health Organization are immune even to embarrassment. Ban Ki-Moon, seemingly a mild-mannered diplomat, will deny deny deny that the UN inflicted cholera on Haiti—and even if did, that it doesn't matter because the UN is never never never responsible for the harm it does. The World Health Organization, as a creature of the UN, has to shove its medical ethics down the memory hole and ignore cholera in both Haiti and Cuba.
I'm sure this situation provokes some lively debates among the professionals in five-star hotels over 10-dollar beers, none of them paid for by the debaters. Other debates, in more modest conditions, no doubt go on in Geneva and Havana and Riyadh and Beijing about what can be said, and to whom, and in which venue.
But actually informing the world about their countries' health conditions is the last thing dealt with in those debates, after political and bureaucratic asses have been well and truly covered.