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Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Deception and the public's health

I''ll concede, I've not always provided to the public all the information about a situation or that concerns are softened. Decisions are based on risks and benefits, not just to the public but impacts on decisions makers, politicians, and professionals.   The rationale can be justified in still protecting the "public's health" through the greater benefit. 

How would you feel to know that despite assurances that informaton was being shared, that perhaps it was not? 

There was a time when Canada was transparent about Mad Cow disease, when some nations very close would have unlikely ever identified a case.   One premier had said that in the public's interest the best thing to do was to bury animals and not have them tested.  The economic consequences were significant and economic vitality is probably the best predictor of future health - so why would something that is not a substantive human risk be shared such that there is a negative economic impact?   The tragedy of SARS was not just in the direct  number of deaths and hospitalizations, but in the compromsie of the economy that likely resulted in real health impacts to others as well.

On the other hand, take H1N1 for example, transparency was the dominant feature and skeptics question whether too much was done, or it wasn't necessary.   I ask audiences which was more of a public health threat, H1N1 or SARS.   The majority lean towards saying SARS was worse.   Lest we forget, H1N1 killed at least 10 times more Canadians than SARS and resulted in much higher hospitlization and debilitating illness.  

It is a no win situation - but begin by asking yourself - would you prefer to know all the facts and be allowed to make an informed choice?  or have some of the information 'modified' to make it appear less concerning?   Both answers are correct, hence it becomes a no-win situation.   If you have an suggestion, it would be welcomed.

1 comment:

  1. At the risk of hysteria, some situations may require full disclosure and the autonomous risk assessment by public members. Risk communication is fascinating: it is about perceptions, control, decisions, familiarity..