01/05/2006, 00.00
TURKEY
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Bird flu front-page news on the internet but not in print and in the streets

by Mavi Zambak
Two brothers of the dead girl and boy are still in hospital. The average person does not seem worried about the disease. Turkish papers do not put in print the alarming news they see fit to publish online.

Ankara (AsiaNews) – What is happening? Something is not right. After denials and verifications, Turkish Health Minister Recep Akdag last night said that the 14-year-old boy who died on January 1 in hospital in the city of Van, near the Iranian border, had avian flu. His sister died the following day and two other brothers are still in hospital receiving medical care.

These are the first deaths outside of the faraway Orient and it seems they are causing widespread fear in Europe. Web media seem to pushing the panic button. Online Turkish papers are publishing worried articles and not sparing scary commentaries. However, you would not know it from perusing their print editions or from what is said in the streets.

National newspapers show alarming photos and big titles quoting Minister Akdag online, but barely cover the same issue in their print editions—at best, a few lines here and there, if anywhere. This is comes as a confirmation to nagging suspicions that something is not being said.

Pharmacies and drugstores are not carrying any drug specifically targeting this disease, and when someone asks for Tamiflu, they are told: "It's on our orders list."

In the streets or offices, in stores or on public transit, people do not appear excessively worried. People shrug the minister's appeal 'not to worry', saying that as long as "you don't eat chicken and turkey and cook good eggs well" you are in the clear.

When confronted with facts and figures about the risks and dangers of the infection, most people react as if you are from another planet. They seem to have a hard time to understand Europe's fear.

Is this due to what is called 'Oriental fatalism', this detached attitude towards death? Does it make them more indifferent to this worldwide problem? Have they so internalised the adage "Every living being shall taste death" that is found at the entrance of many a Turkish cemetery? Or is it that, despite being in the news for months, the government has not provided adequate information about the bird flu.

For months, local government schools have handed out copies of a brochure explaining what precautions must be taken against viral infections. The booklet contains basic instructions with illustrations such as washing hands before eating or stressing the importance of using toilet paper (a custom not yet fully practiced in rural villages). Teachers have also been providing lessons on the dangers of viruses, and on the importance of hygiene to improve living conditions and prevent dangerous diseases.

This is fine but will it be sufficient against the H5N1 virus? Only time will tell what the authorities and public opinion will do!

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