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Editorial: Government needs to be more transparent

An editorial on the SHA approach to releasing data about monkeypox cases.
Statoscope, medical, health

We’re once again seeing a lack of transparency when it comes to the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

It was a significant problem early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, when the ministry released minimal information on the location of cases, only saying if they were in the far north, north, central, south, Saskatoon or Regina regions.

The failings were clear when there was a surge of cases in southern Saskatchewan, but SHA wouldn’t specify where. People in the southeast were wondering how many cases were here, even though, as it turned out, there were few at that time. Most of the cases were in the southwest or south central areas.

The south region was about the same size as a small U.S. state.

The situation improved when the government started to release cases by sub-zone, but even then, the sub-zones were often too large, and cities were grouped in with rural areas.

We’re seeing the transparency pattern repeat itself once again now that monkeypox has been diagnosed in Saskatchewan.  

As of Monday, Saskatchewan had two cases of the disease that has generated headlines elsewhere in the world. All that the SHA has told us is that there are two cases. They didn’t say where, or how old these people were, or anything else, citing confidentiality.  

Now, if the case is in a village or small town, then a measure of common sense is needed because you don’t want to contribute to identifying the patient. Just say it is in a certain region.

But if the case is in someone who resides in Saskatoon or Regina, or even Estevan or Weyburn, then the risk breaching privacy by saying the community is minimal.

And there is the element of the public’s right to know if someone in their community or region has contracted such a disease.

Now let’s be clear: it does not appear that monkeypox is the next COVID-19. While it’s getting lots of attention, and there are health risks associated with the disease, it hasn`t been declared as a pandemic.

It’s much harder to spread monkeypox than COVID. It requires extended close contact with other people to move from person to person. Barring a sudden mutation of the virus, it’s not going to result in lockdowns or restrictions or public health orders like we’ve seen in the past 2 1/2 years. 

But there are still risks associated with the disease. 

And so it’s incumbent on the government to provide us with as much information as possible so that we can be informed and aware.  

What we do with that information, well, it’s up to us. We can heed the information and be aware of what’s happening. We can pan it and try to undermine the validity of the source. We can bury our heads in the sand, ignore it and hope it will go away.  

But the information is there, and for those who want to use it, they can do so. 

Right now, the SHA is making it difficult to make an informed decision, because the information isn’t there. We know there’s monkeypox in Saskatchewan. We know there can be health consequences. But we don’t know much else.

For those who are on edge about monkeypox, thinking this could be the next horrible disease within our borders, it might actually help someone in one part of the province know that it’s in a completely different region.

Providing information to the public is also the best way possible to curb misinformation. Yes, you’re going to get those who will believe anything they read as long as it fits their worldview. That’s part of the pitfalls associated with social media. 

But there are many others who will make careful, informed decisions about what is actually happening in the world.

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