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Swine flu vs. meningitis: What’s your (editorial) choice?

April 28, 2009

The U.S. media are all over the swine flu outbreak. It started in Mexico, killed over 150 people there, and has been documented in America, New Zealand, Canada and a few other industrial countries.

But hardly two months ago, we heard nary a word about over 5,000 cases–five thousand –of meningitis in Nigeria and Niger. In fact, the top Google search results that have this news are Voice of America (which does not broadcast to Americans), an Australian news site, Reliefnet and

Were we white people holding back because we just had a feeling there’d be a crazy-contagious disease other white people might catch? Or were we just waiting for the meningitis outbreak to take down a Brit or an Aussie or something before we put it in our papers?

It’s not an idle point. Outbreak leads to outcry leads to the mobilization of international medical resources, changes in policy by the CDC and the WHO that can quickly change the distribution of health resources on the ground…

(H/t Stephanie Nolen, @snolen)

6 Comments leave one →
  1. david permalink
    April 29, 2009 5:52 pm

    You make a good point about the lack of news coverage in mainstream American media. One might point out that epidemic outbreaks of meningitis frequently affect west Africa, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to question the apparent inevitability of that phenomenon. Surely there’s an alternative to perpetual emergency management.

    Do you think the WHO and ECHO’s response was insufficient or sluggish?

  2. April 29, 2009 6:01 pm

    Thanks, David. Frequency of Nigerian meningitis duly noted. Unsure if you mean an alternative to international organizations being in perpetual emergency management viz. meningitis in West Africa? Sure–from a management perspective, it wouldn’t be emergency management if it were perpetual, I suppose. But more to the point, I would say a functioning public health system is a good alternative to start with. Of course, that’s like saying, “Well, being wealthy is a nice alternative to living in poverty.” Not exactly a prescription, if a sensible goal.

    I haven’t followed WHO and ECHO on Nigeria, I have to say, so I bow out of judging the response.

  3. david permalink
    May 1, 2009 10:40 am

    Ah, I was being a bit abstruse. I just meant that they should focus more on prevention.

    After a bit of research, though, it looks as though organizations like MSF are a few steps ahead of me.

    • May 1, 2009 10:42 am

      Oh, on prevention, I’m totally with you. Esp. given the frequency you point out. And thanks for pointing out that MSF is doing that. I didn’t realize this, either.

  4. May 5, 2009 9:26 am

    I like your comment Jina. It is quite absurd that some outbreak has to affect someone in some developed country to make a headline. Besides the attitudes I think the whole financial situation reduced the coverage of Africa in many western countries. I mean who is in charge of WHO and UN and who makes drastic changes to improve either emergency situations or pre-emergency? The coverage of Swine flu was great example. Keep it up


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