Sunday, July 19, 2009

Won Flu, Too Cuckoo

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently signaled a global pandemic level 6 for novel influenza A (H1N1), a viral illness spread mainly by person-to-person contact. Health authorities around the world are seriously concerned about its potential deadly impact. The 1918-19 influenza pandemic killed approx. 21 million people worldwide; we've much more mobility now - the virus might spread very quickly.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is liaising with state & local health officials to improve public safety & security. Because flu is transmitted through contact with infected people or their surroundings (animals can also harbor the virus), public education about hygiene can be critical. At this moment there is no available vaccine that offers immunity.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in promoting public education efforts, is sponsoring a contest (deadline 17 august 2009). U.S. residents age 14 or over who create an effective 15, 30 or 60 second video Public Service Announcement can win US$2500!

Seems a great idea. Ten finalists will be selected by celebrity judges, one prize will be given, voted "by the YouTube community."

But wait.     This contest sucks in too many ways:
-- $2500 ain't much incentive for critical activity; when people start dying, the U.S. government will seem stupid cheapskates. In June the US Congress appropriated a special budget to combat this H1N1 flu: $7.7 billion ($7,700,000,000). So this contest is not a three-millionth of the special budget. Though public education & prevention is most cost-effective, most money seems to be aimed elsewhere - perhaps fancy P4 experimentation facilities or outbreak-response helicopters...
-- No message format is good for everybody; if ten or a hundred videos will save lives, sponsor many videos.
-- Money attracts people; a million dollar prize or $100,000 gets people excited and it's newsworthy, which spreads the message.
-- Open the contest more widely; why stupidly limit entries to residents of the USA & Puerto Rico?
-- It is unlikely a proper voting system by the YouTube community can be devised
-- On a scale of 1 to 10, this contest announcement by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (see video on link above) has an impact factor below 3; dreadful! Do these bureaucrats really care to keep us alive?

Ultimately: wash your hands regularly & carefully. Don't touch your mouth or nose. Assume public facilities are germ-infested. And Enjoy Life while you can!