Roundtable Discussion On "Influenza A(H1N1): Cambodia's Preparedness and Impact of Media Coverage"

With support from Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Club of Cambodian Journalists ( CCJ ) in cooperation with UN Offices inCambodia organized a roundtable discussion on “Influenza A(H1N1): Cambodia’s Preparedness and Impact of Media Coverage” on May 29, 2009.

Speaking in his welcoming remarks, Mr. Prach Sim, CCJ Secretary General, said the reason why CCJ organized such discussion because its the global hot issue while the Cambodians are also scared about the disease. CCJ with support from Korand Adenauer Foundation thinks that A(HIN1) is the hot issue. Recently three Cambodian-Americans traveled from the US through Korea via a flight in which a traveler was diagnosed as have A(H1N1) patient and such information caused doubt if the country also has the virus. That’s why CCJ today in cooperation with UN office in Cambodia organized such important discussion, he said. It is a good opportunity for journalists to get updated information and more understanding about the virus and carefully inform the public, he added.

Sharing his idea on the role and responsibility of media and other institutions concerned in outreaching information to the public, speaker Marc Vergara, UNICEF Chief of Communication, said information must be based on fact. We really need trustful information and get the right message. We must understand and translate it in the right way before passing to the public, he said.

On 22nd May after getting information from South Korean embassy, Cambodian health authorities searched for three US citizens who shared a flight from the US to South Korea with a person later diagnosed with the virus. The three arrived in Phnom Penh on 17th May and May 18. The Cambodian Health Ministry and the World Health Organization (WHO) said the three passengers did not display influenza symptoms at the time of their arrival. Later on 25 th May a Japanese couple who showed symptoms of flu after traveling by air from Vietnam to Siem Reap have been confirmed that they just had ordinary flue but not A(H1N1). With such information, Marc Vergara said, journalitst must not only focus on the fact but they must explain to the people what is happening and try to avoid miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Dr. Sok Touch, Director of Health Ministry’s Communicable Disease Control Department, said the ministry has a mechanism of information system and it needs close cooperation from the media. “Cooperation from media is very important and sometimes because of news, the local persons can come out and report to us,” he said. We would like to appeal to our brothers and sisters who return from foreign countries please immediately go to have medical checkup after one week when they suspect of having A(H1N1), especially when your temperature is going high, he said.

Dr. Sok Touch also hinted that the scanner machines at the airports in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap just track down on high temperature, not A(H1N1). He said people who catch the virus of A(H1N1) look normal on the first day but the symptoms can appear in a few days later. He also urged people who arrive at the airports and at the border checkpoints to fill the health form properly and faithfully with the clear contact such as address and telephone number so that we can be aware of your health condition later.

Sharing his view in the discussion, Dr. Ly Sovann, Deputy Director of the Communicable Disease Control Department, said some passengers never fill the health forms provided by the airports’ staff. We do not know exactly why they do not fill the health form. They could be either aiming to hide their health condition or unaware of their temperature. They must fill it in, he insisted.

Though Cambodia has not been affected by A(H1N1) ), Dr. Ly Sovann said, the country has been preparing to prevent the virus as much as it can. We do not have the virus yet in Cambodia right now but we are trying our best to prevent it with support from WHO and others. Cambodia like other nations has its health monitoring system at the airports and at the border checkpoints to follow up the issue in case there is something unusual, he said.

During the more than three-hour discussion, Dr. Nima Asgari-Jirhandeh, Public Health Specialist: Communicable Disease Surveillance and Response, of WHO, also briefed what is A(H1N1) and WHO’s response to the issue. He said WHO closely cooperates with media and the government on the issue.

UNDP official presented at the discussion also urged journalists to verify news information before launching to the public, especially on A (H1N1).

In his closing remarks, Mr. Prach Sim said the discussion looked like that journalists entered a laboratory to see and listened about what is A(H1N1) and after this discussion they become clearer on the virus and report to the public more accurately. Because of the importance of the topic, the roundtable discussion drew many journalists. The discussion was aired at least by three televisions, and a number of newspapers and radio stations.

Phnom Penh 29 May, 2009
Club of Cambodian Journalists