We’ve all had the flu. It hits us, knocks us out for a few days, maybe even a week. Then it goes away and we get on with our lives. But what if it weren’t so simple? What if many of the people we knew got sick, and some of them, especially our children and our older parents, actually died from it? People would have to stay home to take care of themselves and their loved ones or to try to avoid getting sick. Hospitals would be overloaded, and many of the health care workers would be out sick themselves. Food and other supplies wouldn’t get to the stores, businesses would have to shut down, schools would be closed. How would we get by when the institutions we rely on are inoperable and we can’t venture out of the house?
For those of us who were not around in 1918, or did not have relatives who died in that flu epidemic, this scenario is hard to imagine in this day and age. But the so-called bird flu (the H5N1 virus) has just been called the “greatest global health threat of the 21st century” by the Director-General of the World Health Organization. The likelihood of a global flu pandemic looks now to be a matter of when, rather than if.
The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Michael Leavitt, is convening a leadership forum on pandemic preparedness on June 13, including leaders from every sector to discuss how to help Americans become more prepared for a possible flu pandemic. As part of this forum, the Department is also hosting a blog summit to extend the conversation before and after the forum in DC.
I’ve been invited to be one of the bloggers on the Pandemic Flu Leadership Blog, which will be active from May 22 to June 27, with a different question for discussion each week. I’m honored to be among contributors like Georges Benjamin, the Executive Director of the American Public Health Association; Pierre Omidyar, the Founder and Chairman of eBay and the Omidyar Network; Irwin Redlener, the Director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness; Greg Dworkin of the Flu Wiki; and many other distinguished professionals. Thank you to Beth Kanter for recommending me to be part of this effort.
My first post is now up on preparing for persuasion, where I talk about how we can use social marketing to encourage people to take action to prepare for a possible flu pandemic. Each of the previous posts before mine have garnered a slew of comments (38, 54 and 91 each so far!), and I expect the conversation to continue to gain steam as we move forward. I hope you’ll come by to read our posts and contribute your thoughts. This is a critical issue for us as marketers and communicators to be prepared for so that we can make sure that the rest of the country is prepared as well. Hopefully, like insurance, we’ll never need to take advantage of our readiness. But even if there is not a flu pandemic any time soon, there will, sadly, always be other disasters that those preparations can help mitigate.
Kudos to the Department of Health and Human Services for recognizing the value a blog can bring in terms of involving constituents, getting feedback and extending the conversation beyond the participants of the one-day forum. For more information on pandemic flu and how to protect your family and community, check out PandemicFlu.gov or the Flu Wiki.