Disinformation in a Global Era: Swine Flu makes Mexicans Blue with Anger

As the U.S., Europe and Asian slam shut doors to Mexico, one only wishes the doors by which assault weapons travel south shut closed as fast. As I watch global warnings pop up everywhere, I find myself wondering, what happened to the global village?

As the news media reports that testing for the Mexican swine flu strain required samples be sent to Canada for a lack of equipment in sitio, I find myself asking, how it is that we can put together rescue missions after a disaster but not before?

Where are the roving bands of doctors and health care workers with test labs on wheels, or planes, that can travel to the country of an epidemic’s zone zero? Where is that global connection that is the underpinning for all that we are asked to give up in our lives to appease global trade?

To see world partners turn their back just a week after being in Mexico’s backyard does nothing to increase confidence.

Questions abound, or at least, online, as the Swine Flu scare reaches a feverish pitch.

Mexican media and bloggers reported yesterday, that Mexico’s Secretary of Health, José Ángel Córdova Villalobos failed to provide any concrete answers about the outbreak during a news conference in Mexico City. The answers coming out of yesterday’s new conference flew like fire through the net. Bloggers noted that reporters seemed to lack skills, or will, to probe even for basic answers as readers made clear their frustrations in postings. Many chastised the media for not questioning the government more, and failing to meet its responsibility to society.

In reading the posts, I realized there were many important, and valuable questions not being asked….by any media.

When one considers just how much media attention is shining on this is issue, it is quite embarrassing that more questions and answers are not informing the public.

Mexicans are demanding to know the number of CONFIRMED deaths from the swine flu in Mexico. Secretary Córdova Villalobos said yesterday, only 7 (seven) deaths from swine flu have been confirmed. Bloggers had a field day with this answer, given the constantly high figures cited both in Mexico and the U.S.

But the next question even toppled me over.

So, where are the bodies? Where are the grieving families? Where are interviews with the families of the dead, and why are they not also sick? Online readers inquire, why have there not been any funerals yet? I wonder, maybe autopsies have delayed the funerals?

One question posed did make me wonder if any medical science reporter had asked this same question: if this outbreak is indeed swine flu, wouldn’t the outbreak have started in rural areas as opposed to fanning its way from Mexico City out to rural areas?

Some ask, what is the name of the antiviral drug that has been curing people, why has the name of the drug not been announced in Mexico? And, isn’t it curious, the theory goes, that Sanofi Adventis donated 236,000 dosis’ of medicine to Mexico as the flu broke out, and set aside money to begin construction of a new vaccine plant?

Speaking of conspiracies, why would anyone cause such a panic in the first place? I turned back again to the online posts, and several theories jump out.

The theories advanced are reflective of political, social and economic realities both inside Mexico, and outside the country.

The first theory points to the recent G7 meeting, and how the topic of the day between the nations was the economic crisis, now on the back burner as the swine flu takes center stage. This theory notes too that the pharmaceutical industry has been hit hard by the global economic down turn although losses have been evident since 2005. Only several days after the G7, this theory goes, the country is overtaken by this virus. This theory posits that its ironic the outbreak just so happens to have mostly infected people in G7 countries. Interestingly enough, the theory points to the amount of money the industry stands to gain from fear and panic through sales of medicine and supplies until the crisis subsides.

This theory seems to be bolstered in readers’ mind by the lack of concrete data from Mexican officials. To discover that only 7 confirmed deaths have been pronounced heightened the public’s distrust, already jaded from the 2006 election, that something funny is going on behind closed doors.

We should keep in mind that currently millions of Mexicans in Mexico City are voluntarily staying at home, with their kids out of school, and delaying any non-essential activities. Up-to-date, accurate information must be even more important than for us in the U.S. where the flu outbreak has been mild.

As the international community warns against Mexican travel and commerce, the economic impact is a mortal blow to an already strapped economy that has lived through tidal waves of poverty that have made even the strongest hurt.

The second theory advanced is a worrisome one, and perhaps, is stoked by heightened local fears from being voluntarily quarantined in homes, and, concerns about accessing medical services and care. This theory states that, in fact, there is no influenza epidemic.

Rather, the theory goes, Mexico City is experiencing an airborne, dangerous virus that has mutated from the bird flu, and that immediate attention at a hospital is required to save one’s life.

Given the power that governments and military institutions are given during emergencies, this theory is the one that most concerns Mexicans, and perhaps leads to more panic, which leads to more sales of medicine and medical supplies.

In addressing this situation before us today, we have the opportunity to learn something. This possible flu outbreak should not be fodder just for those who wish to see the illness renamed the “Mexican flu,” it must be an opportunity to really put our global resources where our global mouth is.

If Mexico is or were to be in the grip of a massive pandemic – how does the world community respond? Given the history of trade and diplomacy between Mexico, the EU and Asia – there should be no surprise that testing facilities don’t exist onsite in Mexico – or many other countries – to assume differently is ridiculous.

Instead of the military equipment and millions to fight a drug war that has claimed seven thousand CONFIRMED Mexican deaths to date, why don’t we send a few epidemic testing stations instead?

Until there is real exchange of information, and technology and resources that goes beyond drug dealer hunting weapons and high-tech, bi-national spy equipment, we will be challenged to solve global problems together.

I am not reporting theories that have been researched, I am reporting observations and sharing the questions I hear from Mexicans in this article because I think it’s really important that information between the U.S. and Mexico shift to serve the public, and to enhance relations between the two countries. Equally as important, to ensure the public safety of the people I love on both sides of the border.

As neighbors, I believe our countries are served when we deal with the public with honesty, cooperation and transparency.

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