Via The National: World health meeting over Mers. But the interesting part of the report is a sidebar:
Ignore Mers rumours says professor
A lecturer at UAE University has advised staff and students against listening to rumours about Mers being circulated on social media and to pay attention only to official sources.
The lecture was given by Ahmed Al Suwaidi, assistant dean at the university’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.
He said the coronavirus was no cause for concern in the UAE and that there was no need for a travel ban because of precautionary measures taken by local heath authorities.
Dr Al Suwaidi told the audience to adhere to general health guidelines to prevent flu and respiratory infections from spreading, including washing hands regularly, only drinking pasteurised milk and visiting a doctor should one display any symptoms.
He also said that no connection had been definitely proven between the virus and camels or bats.
In nine years of blogging about this stuff, I've certainly run into plenty of nonsense about one disease or another. One purpose of this blog is to identify such nonsense and keep it from wasting your time.
Unfortunately, in many outbreaks the chief purveyors of nonsense are the official sources themselves. Off the top of my head, I can think of Indonesia under Supari (she not only suppressed H5N1 news, she published a book claiming to see Divine Hands Behind Bird Flu); China in the SARS outbreak; Cuba when cholera turned up at home; and WHO with its excessively tactful silence about the responsibility for cholera in Haiti.
The usual strategy is indeed the tactful silence rather than the outright lie or the claim of divine intervention. Historically, it's worked beautifully. If the internet had been around in World War I, the spread of influenza in the US army training camps would have been loudly blogged and tweeted, and Woodrow Wilson might have actually had to deal with the pandemic at home instead of shipping soldiers off to die of flu in Europe.
Now we have a much less serious outbreak in the Arabian Peninsula, combined with a local population that loves to go online. The local monarchs take the internet very seriously, which is why one young Saudi blogger was recently sentenced to ten years in prison, a thousand lashes, and a fine of one million rials (US$266,000).
Of course there's nonsense on the #Corona hashtag: pointless prayers to deliver the Kingdom from MERS, plus prescriptions for cures like three onions daily (which would ensure that your last breath would at least be a memorably pungent one).
But there's also nonsense in the officially sanctioned Arab media, including serious news stories about witchcraft (often practiced by those evil expatriate housemaids the Saudis can't get along without).
Even tactful silence begins to sound like nonsense after awhile, which is why Dr. Al-Rabiah was "exempted" from his job as Health Minister. His successor, Adel Faqih, got off to a good start with his more informative daily reports (around which Flublogia now builds its day).
Even so, the gaps in his reports are speaking louder all the time, and today the MOH completely blew its credibility by not even including an asymptomatic case in the case count. When WHO sits down with the Saudis and other Gulf rulers on Tuesday, I hope they point out that the International Health Regulations are not Calvinball, where you make up the rules as you play the game, and you never play the same way twice.
I don't see the United Arab Emirates as in any way more open or transparent than the Saudis, Qataris, Kuwaitis, and other Gulf states. They shut down their local Arab Springs pretty briskly when they saw what was going on in the North African states. And since Syria, the people of the Gulf states must know what the price of outright revolt would be.
So WHO and the rest of the global health community have to deal with regimes that don't care about their people; compared to the carnage on the Saudi highways, MERS is just a sneeze. But it's an embarrassing sneeze, and the regimes fear embarrassment more than pneumonic plague.
If politics is the practice of medicine on a large scale, diplomacy is the practice of global health. WHO and other agencies must somehow persuade the Gulf regimes to be honest about MERS—not because it's good for the Gulf's people, or the rest of us, but because it will improve the regimes' image.
I suspect they're going to need a lot of persuading.