Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Disaster Expert Says Public Won't Trust Politicians On Bird Flu Warnings Because Of "Misleading" Claims About Iraq

The coming reality of a bird flu pandemic is far too serious a threat to be left in the hands of politicians, when it comes to adequately and successfully warning the public, argues a disaster management expert :
The public would put themselves at risk because they would not trust politicians to tell the truth if the country was hit by a major outbreak of bird flu, a world expert on disaster management has claimed.

Professor David Alexander, of the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, has been appointed as an adviser to both Nato and the UK Government on the issue of pandemic flu.

Alexander says the country should be preparing itself for a serious outbreak of the potentially devastating virus, but feels that warnings from politicians would not be heeded because of the corrosive impact of bogus claims over Iraq and weapons of mass destruction.

Instead he says people would be far more likely to pay attention to experts who are independent of the political process.

The director of the Aberdeen Centre for Trauma Research, who led the psychiatric team which responded to the Piper Alpha disaster, said there was a real need to prepare for the worst.

"According to the biological scientists a pandemic is likely to strike us. There is no point pretending it won't happen because all the evidence suggests that it will.

"We need to be preparing right now. The future has arrived."

Alexander says it is critical that, in the event of a major medical incident, the public receive the right message.

He said: "You must have credible and competent figures giving out the information. Without naming names, I think it would be fair to say that many people are fairly sceptical about what certain politicians say on major issues, Iraq being one.

"We were misled on Iraq. I don't think anybody disputes that now.

"Whether the motive was malice or ignorance, I certainly think it has undermined a lot of trust in politicians. There are individuals whose credibility is so low in the public domain that if they came on TV and delivered warnings they simply would not be believed," he said.

"Unlike politicians, I believe the public do not view scientists as having any personal vested bias."

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