Flu: Lessons we have to learn

NOW that the H1N1 swine-flu outbreak appears to be waning, it’s time to draw important lessons from what happened.

First, the pronouncements from the World Health Organization, a United Nations agency, were disappointing. Most flu and public-health experts consider the WHO’s decision last week to raise the pandemic flu threat to Level 5, “Pandemic Imminent,” to have been alarmist and unwarranted.

The “imminence” of a pandemic pushed governments and individuals into unwise, drastic decisions: unnecessary school, business and event closings and purchases of anti-flu drugs on the Internet (as often as not, a source of counterfeits). Many media images showed people wearing the wrong kinds of masks: Those with pores small enough to filter out flu virus are “N95 respirators,” used for working around fiberglass or wood dust.

But flawed decision-making is typical of the WHO, a scientifically mediocre, unaccountable and self-serving organization whose leadership is based on a kind of international affirmative action instead of merit. The WHO may be well-equipped to perform and report worldwide surveillance, but its policy role should be limited.

Second, the media were for the most part unhelpful. Applying the ethic “If it bleeds, it leads,” they hyped the story breathlessly, omitting necessary context….

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