From: Ziad Memish [edited]
It has not been so very long ago that Canada suffered a significant economic downturn caused by a new infectious disease. The year was 2003, the location was Toronto, home of the Toronto Star, and the agent was another novel coronavirus, SARS.
Collateral damage in this situation was multilateral, and ultimately Canada's GDP suffered as travel restrictions were imposed, conferences were cancelled, and trade restrictions followed. Initial panic fueled by incomplete, even hysterical reporting did eventually settle, however there was minimal follow-up by the lay press, even after timely scientific investigations showed a limited attack rate and lower than expected case fatality rates.
International health authorities have learned through difficult experiences, both with SARS and with pandemic influenza of 2009, that messaging must be coordinated, balanced and responsible.
While we agree that ProMED-mail performs a valuable service to the public health community by communicating early messages of potentially transmissible disease, its readers also depend on knowledgeable editors and moderators to balance the message. Unfortunately, my ministry was not contacted by the Toronto Star nor by ProMED-mail's moderator to discuss pending reports of our novel coronavirus. ProMED-mail's readership has been left in the dark about internal reporting mechanisms that were either intentionally or inadvertently circumvented in this situation.
We do trust ProMED-mail's editors and moderators will remember that our Ministry of Health bears ultimate responsibility for managing contagious disease within and even outside our boundaries. We take seriously our responsibilities to our citizens and our guests. This time of year, we assume an enormous responsibility to our Hajj pilgrims visiting Mecca, and then to the world community as our guests return home. We invite our friends and colleagues to stay tuned; we invite ProMED-mail to collaborate with us to balance public health reporting. As of now, the full story has yet to be told.
Ziad A Memish, MD, FRCP (Can), FRCP (Edin), FRCP (Lond), FACP
Deputy Minister for Public Health
Director WHO Collaborating Center for Mass Gathering Medicine
Ministry of Health
Professor, College of Medicine
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
[ProMED-mail would like to thank Dr. Memish and the Ministry of Health of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) for their contribution. We eagerly look forward to future reports from the KSA on the unfolding story on the novel coronavirus, including results of laboratory and epidemiologic investigations. - Mod.MPP]