WHO pandemic probe focuses on media, Internet role

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April 13, 2010

(AFP) – 12 hours ago

GENEVA — The Internet had a disruptive impact on the handling of the flu pandemic by fanning speculation and rumours, officials said as a world health probe on Tuesday examined communications on swine flu.

World Health Organisation influenza chief Keiji Fukuda told 29 health experts reviewing the international response to the pandemic that the Internet had added a new dimension to flu alerts over the past year.

While it meant information about swine flu became more widely available, it also produced “news, rumours, a great deal of speculation and criticism in multiple outlets,” including blogs, social networking and websites, he said.

“Anti-vaccine messaging was very active, made it very difficult for public health services in many countries,” Fukuda said as a nine-month review of the A(H1N1) flu pandemic got under way.

Several governments have been trying to cancel orders for hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of special swine flu vaccines.

Mass vaccination campaigns in Europe last year fell flat amid public doubts about the value of immunisation because of milder than expected swine flu symptoms, speculation about the safety of the vaccine and concern about the influence of the pharmaceutical industry.

Fukuda also pinpointed the speed with which information spread and its influence on “volatile” public opinion, admitting that the WHO had struggled to find the “right tempo” for communications.

“We saw confusion over many of the words and phrases used in the pandemic,” he added.

While the Internet is regarded as an essential conduit for information, many members of the health community believe it has also amplified the impact of sensationalist claims or blogging by self-styled experts, with little in the way of checks or balances.

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One could also include the HPV vaccine crusade in this article.  They never expected that the masses would utilize research, information and data on the Internet and share it through the social media groups.

PG

Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.