Health crises: Web a boon and a bane

Health crises: Web a boon and a bane

SINGAPORE - During the H1N1 pandemic, an online myth claimed that consuming more salt could help combat the flu.

But World Health Organization (WHO) experts, in town for a conference yesterday, warned that people should be wary of such rumours and verify them with credible sources.

The Internet has been a double-edged sword in public- health crises, causing panic through myths but also enabling vital knowledge to be shared to fight epidemics, they said.

Social media makes it hard for netizens to sift out fact from fiction, said Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO's assistant director-general for health security and environment.

Singapore Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who was also at the conference, said that "the spread of critical information...is our key weapon against the advantage of surprise that a public-health crisis may have."

Despite a potential economic downturn, he reiterated the importance of committing resources to prepare for public-health risks.

If countries are not prepared, the possible impact of the spread of infectious diseases could be "swift and devastating", Mr Gan warned.


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