The Awareness of Risk

Dmitri Prieto

A local store in Havana.

Almost every day on Cuban television news, calls appear for increasing the awareness of risks in the face of epidemics that now exist on the island.

We hear appeals to not lower our guard in the face of possible focal points for the reproduction of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the transmitter of dengue fever, and for whose extermination specialized bodies of personnel have been created to inspect individual homes, neighborhoods and workplaces.

They also explain to us about how it is important that we cover our mouths when we sneeze because otherwise viruses can be spread, and one never knows if they’re a carrier of the (potentially) fatal A H1 N1 flu.

Likewise, with increasing frequency they call our attention to how important it is to wash our hands.

At the same time there are public service messages on how not to discriminate against people suffering from tuberculosis…

From time to time they’ll air reports on people who have gotten sick or cured of the A H1 N1 influenza, almost always pregnant women or children.

But what you’ll never see on TV is a senior official of the Public Health or Civil Defense ministry with concrete data on how many people have become sick and from what illness.  We simply never see that data.  I don’t know if it’s public or secret, but it’s clear that this information is not disclosed on television.

Once the minister of Public Health (now released from his position) spoke of “four epidemics.” We could only count dengue fever, influenza and conjunctivitis… What was the fourth one, we wondered?  Tuberculosis?  Leptospirosis?  There was not the least suggestion, beyond interpretations that you yourself might make as to the real aims behind the government’s social marketing campaigns.

At the same time, doctors who speak out on TV complain that the Cuban public has lowered its guard, that we’re losing our awareness of risk…

I think that if we had the weekly data on the real situation of epidemics, we would be more critical and reflective in terms of risks.  We would be more conscious.  Perhaps the situation of HIV/AIDS awareness is a good example of the socialization of information.

I think that it would be very useful to have that data.  Without them, the cries over the decline in the “awareness of risk” echo of the logic of Lewis Carroll.  It would be better if we ourselves had access to the medical statistics; in any event, it would help to improve our public health.  It would be a true instrument of awareness and not “arms in the enemy’s hands” or a vehicle of anti-social alarmism, as some people continue to believe.