A tiny inch and a half news item in the July 21, Sunday New York Times brought forth once again the difference in news coverage of tragedies in the West compared to those in the Third World.
The Associated Press news bite reported that “An unidentified disease that is fatal in six days has killed about 600 people in southeastern Nigeria and prompted thousands of others to flee, doctors and community leaders say.” Imagine if this story had occurred in France or Germany. Over a decade ago, another unidentified disease began sweeping parts of Africa. Now it is called AIDS. My associate called the Centers for Disease Control to get more information about the Lagos, Nigeria dispatch. The Centers had no information to impart. Nor was anyone available to elaborate at the State Department.
In 1989, about 500 people were killed and 715 injured when mining tunnels collapsed due to landslides in the Philippines. Hardly a headline in our press.
Back in the Seventies, thousands of Iraqis were poisoned by mercury which had been mistakenly mixed with food grains imported from the West. The tragedy was far greater than the Minamata, Japan outbreak which has received deservedly much publicity, photo books and documentaries. In China, earlier this month, 500 people were killed as record rain and flooding battered the east Chinese provinces. Tens of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed.
The Chinese earthquake in the Seventies killed over one million people. The floods of Bangladesh have taken millions of lives. The famines of Africa have destroyed millions of lives.
While there was considerable coverage of the Bangladesh and African disasters in their early stages, the news did not continue to follow the story as they did for years in Northern Ireland or-in Poland.
Why is such coverage important? First, it is one world and increasingly what happens in one area affects other areas — especially in such matters as disease and population movements.
Second, more attentive coverage to such newsworthy events would bring more charitable and preventive efforts to bear on these problems. The early television news coverage of the 1984 Ethiopian famine resulted in accelerating and expanding relief efforts that saved many, many lives.
Third, greater news coverage of Third World calamities would erase the stain long stationed on the news business — that lives of white people are far more important to cover than lives of Third World peoples.
There is self-interest that can be argued on this need for greater news coverage. With transportation mobility, sickness in Asia, Africa and South American can come to Europe and North America. 50 can harmful insects and microbes that affect crops.
The application of modern public health detection and prevention technologies is far likely to occur if the West is more informed of what is going on elsewhere in the world.
In the meantime, we’ll have to wait and see what that “unidentified disease” in southeastern Nigeria turns out to be — a more virulent form of cholera or some new contagious virus on its way to the western hemisphere.