Should the WHO apologize for the swine flu pandemic?

As a horizon scanner, I saw how the swine flu epidemic built up in the press. I saw the story that Canada was concerned about some people who had recently returned from Mexico with a strange flu. I also saw the story the very next day about a few boys in southern California who had contracted a strange form of flu. The whole thing just snowballed from there into a frenzy of news stories about an impending plague that would travel the world and kill a great percentage of people.

In reality though, the deaths were slow in coming. The Canadians were okay eh. The boys in California pulled through. And some proclaimed swine flu deaths were disputed. At least one of the earliest victims’ families claimed there was no swine flu in the person’s system.

Flu pandemics tend to follow a 40 year cycle. So, when bird flu started killing people, the WHO was naturally concerned. However, the virus has never been shown capable of transmitting from person to person. People contract the flu by eating or handling infected birds. However, the percentage of deaths from those infected was very high.

When bird flu failed to go pandemic, the world waited for the flu cycle to reach its 40th year. So, when swine flu reared its head, the world was ready, but the world was also primed to worry. The world though, certainly Europe and India and many in the States, feels disillusioned. Where are the dead? These people want blood, and they are seeking Margaret Chan of the WHO to be their sacrificial lamb.

I will freely admit that during the past (northern hemisphere) summer, I saw Chan’s picture a few too many times. Sometimes, her picture appeared inappropriately in reports of the flu’s spread. I began wondering what her motivation was in declaring the pandemic. She did seem to declare the pandemic rather soon. I began to wonder if she thought this was her time to shine and make her mark in history as the saviour of humanity.

Swine flu is by definition a pandemic though. When 2009 H1N1 swine flu was declared phase 6 pandemic, the virus had crossed enough borders with a significant number of people contracting the virus within the respective communities. The concern was of course that the declaration would cause an unnecessary panic–unnecessary because the virus had already shown itself to be quite mild. However, flu viruses are notorious for mutating as they pass around the world. There was still a need for extreme surveillance even though there was no need to panic.

Many bloggers throughout this situation have claimed any number of things from the nonexistence of the virus to the conspiracy of world leaders to include mind controlling serums in the vaccines. I submit that these bloggers actually only contributed to the panic. With people able to publish their opinions so broadly and freely, fear is spread faster and more intensely. These fear mongers fed off each other while feeding out to the legitimate press. Please don’t read this as some admonition of bloggers, but rather a caution to not believe certain blogs any more than one would believe certain face-to-face conversations.

I have a tendency to rabbit trail to other topics but back to Margaret. She did her job. Perhaps she could have handled things better, but she warned the world of a potential danger. Just because that danger did not lead to death does not mean that the danger did not exist. The flu could have mutated to something more deadly, and the flu was certainly widespread.

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