Differentiating between real and fictitious amid fears
About a week ago, panic gripped the city when reports about the death of a medical practitioner went public. He died of MERS in one of the government hospitals in Jeddah. In the wake of his death, various rumors started doing the rounds and not to be surprised most of the social media networks went abuzz with different theories.
Frankly speaking, despite the seriousness of this issue one has to admit that the social media and different online news outlets blew the issue out of proportion. However, the health officials decided to maintain their silence. And perhaps rumors feed on silence. Tweets, Facebook feeds, and WhatsApp messages went crazy with rumors about closure of hospitals, huge numbers of fatalities, and list upon lists of health guidelines pouring in from everywhere in the cyberspace.
Such a situation always gives rise to (sometimes) unwarranted fears, which grow due to people’s natural concern for the safety of their loved ones.
After some delay, the Ministry of Health (MoH) finally broke its silence over the issue. As always when an official comes forward to contain a situation fatted with rumors, people receive his statements with skepticism. In the era of the fast and furious social media networks, you do not voluntarily give the crowd the chance to tell your side of the story, to speak in your behalf; by doing so you simply lose your credibility. Despite repeated statements and photos of routine work carried out in various hospitals and official visits to one of the hospitals particularly in the news, there are those who still swear that four hospitals have already been closed because of the virus; they have the WhatsApp messages to prove it!
However, the seriousness of the situation cannot be downplayed. The virus that was identified in Saudi Arabia back in April 2012 still remains a mystery. According to the World Health Organization, the coronavirus has not been previously detected in humans and there is very limited information on its transmission, severity and clinical impact. As of March 27, there were 206 confirmed MERS cases reported to the WHO, including 86 deaths.
Obviously, we do not know a lot about the virus like its development, mode of transmission and its treatment. Scientists around the world are still working on this. For that, you better have little faith in the series of social media messages spreading several tips on how to protect yourself and your family from it. If you need real information, visit the webpage of MoH, as it has posted some good information and FAQ about the virus and how to deal with the situation. In a nutshell, it is mostly general guidelines on personal and environmental hygiene.
I really hope the MoH and other government and private organizations take these incidents as a lesson. They need to become part of the lives of those they serve by interacting with them and addressing their fears and concerns. They cannot decide to stand on the line, when the whole game is being played in their backyard.
Moreover, in addition to disaster management there are more important and pressing issues that the MoH needs to address. Infection control, government hospitals statuses and medical staff management in such circumstances are all examples of what the officials at the ministry need to revise and address.
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