Fear called enemy in fight against disease

April 20, 2006

Fear is the worst enemy in the fight against bioterrorism and infectious diseases such as bird flu, an Australian scientist has told a conference.

Dr. James Robertson of the Australian Federal Police told a Sydney forum on infectious diseases and international security that greater collaboration was needed between health and security agencies to raise public awareness, The Australian reported Thursday.

"It's important that we do understand what the community awareness is ... and raise that awareness to appropriate levels," Robertson said. "What we don't want to do is create fear."

Security clearances presented a barrier for sharing sensitive public health information, he said, and media reports tended to be sensationalized and misleading.

Australia's government recently established a $14.9 million Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Data Center to streamline the collection and sharing of such information, he said.

"We need to balance what is a sensational disease which captures headlines and which is likely to be an acute event," said Professor Tony Cunningham of Westmead Hospital's Millennium Research Institute.

"We shouldn't lose track of the insidious growth of HIV in our region."

Copyright 2006 by United Press International

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