About 1 in 5 people have a fear of flying but the odds of dying in an airplane are 1 in 7,178 in a lifetime (compared to a 1 in 98 chance of dying in a motor vehicle accident). A fear of sharks is incredibly common, but sharks are responsible for the deaths of fewer than six people per year. Hippos? Responsible for 2,900 deaths per year. Mosquitos? The number climbs to an astonishing 655,000 deaths per year attributable to the tiny insects.
Similarly, American concerns regarding today’s health issues appear to be skewed, which means we’re potentially overlooking diseases that pose the greatest risk.
The recent Ebola outbreak resulted in mass global attention. As a result, concerns about Ebola grew, especially in the U.S. where media coverage was rampant. According to a recent poll from the Harvard School of Public Health, over a third (39%) of American adults are concerned about a large outbreak and a quarter are worried about contracting the disease. Since the start of this outbreak, there have been more than 1,700 confirmed cases worldwide, only two of which were American. The U.S. patients have since been treated and discharged from Emory University Hospital.
We can’t ignore global health issues like Ebola, but we also can’t ignore the staggering statistics of those people around the world dying from preventable diseases like the flu and measles. UNICEF estimates that 9.7 million children die each year of preventable diseases. WHO says a bad flu season can kill over 250,000 people and in 2013, 122,000 people died from measles. In the U.S. alone, the CDC reported 107 influenza-associated pediatric deaths during this year’s flu season and 593 confirmed measles cases were reported so far this year.
These statistics stress the importance of comprehensive healthcare communications and need for continuous education about all the diseases that pose a risk to our health, especially the ones that aren’t as likely to grab headlines. Sensationalism may drive people to purchase face masks and disaster kits, but it’s important that “less glamorous” messages – about vaccination and hand washing – break through the clutter. Our challenge as communicators is to make people care about things that have very real health consequences. It’s about shifting a mindset, one person at a time, to drive action so that the odds are always in that person’s favor.