This assembly discusses the current outbreak of swine flu and examines our emotional and social reactions to it. It seeks to discuss the unspoken fears that concern young people. It does not offer detailed health education on the subject

Information given may need to be updated in view of the rapidly changing situation. Contact the NHS for national information or the World Health Organisation for international information.

Resources

A leader and two readers.

Engagement

Has anybody ever watched ‘Dad’s Army’ on television? It’s a classic comedy show and it often gets repeated. Many of our grandparents enjoy it – and probably some of our parents too. ‘Dad’s Army’ is about a group of men who join the Home Guard at the beginning of the Second World War. One of the famous characters is dear old Corporal Jones – whenever anything starts to go wrong, he shouts ‘Don’t panic! Don’t panic!’ and then gets into a terrible panic himself.

‘Dad’s Army’ is regarded as a classic tv programme because the comical people in the story are rather like us, and many can relate to them. When trouble comes along we can be tempted to panic, and people who panic can do silly, dangerous or even wicked things. So today we are going to apply the ‘Don’t panic!’ message to the outbreak of swine flu. You’ve probably had a leaflet about it delivered to your home.

Reflection

Leader: Swine flu is an illness that was first discovered in Mexico but now it has spread to a number of other countries including our own. The name sounds rather scary and some headlines have made it sound scarier still. This is what some newspapers said when it first started .

Reader 1: (loud and clear) ‘Mexico Races to Stop Deadly Flu.’ (1)

Reader 2: ‘Flu could hit 40% of UK population.’ (2)

Reader 1: ‘Swine flu suspected in Bedfordshire.’ (3)

Reader 2: ‘Confusion as swine flu closes school in Devon.’ (4)

Leader: Those headlines are enough to make you feel ill already. But let’s not panic. Here’s something a bit more hopeful-sounding:

Reader 1: (Calmly) ‘The UK as a whole is well prepared for a pandemic…I would urge everyone to remain calm and continue taking sensible hygiene precautions.’ (5)

Leader: And that’s just what we are doing. But sometimes you can appear calm on the outside while still being scared or panicky inside. We can keep fears bottled up inside us and don’t tell anybody else about them, because we don’t want to look silly. When our grandparents were young they didn’t have to worry about swine flu, but let’s ask our readers to tell us some of the things our grandparents did get anxious about.

Reader 1: ‘When I was fourteen, I sometimes thought that the world would soon be blown up by atom bombs, and that those who were left alive would soon die of radiation. I wondered: what’s the point of living?’

Reader 2: ‘When I was at school we used to have smog – a thick fog all mixed up with smoke. It made you cough. On the news we used to hear about germ warfare. And when the smog made me cough, I wondered: is this germ warfare starting?’

Leader: But it wasn’t germ warfare and we have managed to get rid of smog. And though we still have atom bombs they haven’t blown the world up yet.

But now we do have swine flu. And we aren’t really used to these sudden widespread outbreaks of sickness, like the ones that we read about in history books – some of which had very scary names indeed.

Reader 1: (In a solemn voice) The Black Death,1349.

Reader 2: The Sweating Sickness, 1485.

Reader 1: The Great Plague, 1665.

Reader 2: Nowadays most of us expect to stay in good health. If we are ill we go to the doctor and get better. Medical knowledge has made big advances; most diseases as have been heavily researched, so they can now be cured or treated. So the arrival of a new illness − like swine flu − comes as a bit of a shock. But instead of panicking we need to take sensible precautions. To do that, the first thing that we need is KNOWLEDGE (information available in school or at local health centres may be mentioned).

The word ‘flu’ is short for influenza; it‘s a common illness. For most of us flu isn’t too serious, but it can be very dangerous for people who are very old or very weak. Some animals can also get the flu virus, and when they do it can ‘mutate‘ – change into something different – and be given back to us. That’s how we got the so called ‘Bird Flu’ and now ‘Swine Flu’. At present we aren’t sure how serious this new kind of flu will be, as it is changing all the time. The swine flu virus doesn’t know the difference between one country and another, so it has quickly spread to people in lots of different countries. That’s why the Secretary General of the United Nations has called on all the countries of the world to work together, with the World Health Organisation leading the way, and scientists have been working hard to find a vaccine. So now let’s hear an encouraging headline.

Reader 1: ‘The UK among the best prepared for swine flu outbreak.’ (6)

Leader: That’s sounds good: when it comes to tackling this new sickness we live in one of the best countries for beating it. But now here’s some not-so-good news:

Reader 2: ‘Developing countries ill prepared for swine flu outbreak.’ (7)

Leader: It doesn’t seem fair that people who live in poor countries won’t get the same good treatment as we will. So knowledge on its own is not enough – we need love as well. Love for ourselves and love for others. When it comes to tackling swine flu, the nations of the world have got to work together and help each other. And if they can do that, maybe they can learn how to stop wars as well.

Response

We can get the knowledge and we would like to share the love – but some of us still have those fears that we don’t want to talk about. Let’s listen quietly to some words that link the Bible and the news, bringing love and knowledge together.

Reader 1: ‘There is no fear in love; perfect love drives out all fear.’ (1 John 4:16 Good News Bible translation)

Reader 2: ‘The single most effective way to stop or slow the spread of diseases such as swine flu is to prevent the spread of germs.‘ (8)

Reader 1: ‘Happy are those who work for peace. God will call them his children.’ (Matthew 5:9 GNBible)

Reader 2: ‘Poor countries facing the greatest threat will begin to receive shipments of flu medicine.’ (9)

Reader 1: ‘You shall not fear the terror of night, Nor the arrow that flies by day.’
(Psalm 91:5) New International Version.

Reader 2: Mr Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations says ‘So far our response has been an example of cooperation at its best. I am confident that it will continue to be so.’ (10)

Reader 1: ‘These three remain: faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love.’ (1 Corinthians: 13:13 GNB)

Leader: For many centuries, people thought that outbreaks of disease were signs that the gods were angry with them. But for those who believe in God, making new discoveries about disease is a way of finding out about the world that God has made. Here’s a prayer written by a famous scientist which applies to those who are working to find a new vaccine just now:

The patient faces ask can we not cureWe answer no, not yet, we seek the laws.O God, reveal through all this thing obscure

The unseen small, but million-murdering cause.’

(Sir Ronald Ross – written just before he identified the malaria parasite)

(1) Wall Street Journal, 25th April 2009
(2) The Guardian, 28th April 2009
(3) Bedfordshire on Sunday, 30th April 2009
(4) UTV News, 29th April 2009
(5) Direct Gov, 1st May 2009
(6) Health Service Journal, 27th April 2009
(7) Thaindian News, 29th April 2009
(8) NHS, 12th May 2009
(9) IPS, 5th May 2009
(10) UN News Centre, 27th April 2009

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2009

About the author: John Coutts has worked as secondary school principal in Nigeria, taught RE in Scotland, and has been involved in teaching and teacher training at the University of Greenwich. He has written and presented many scripts for the BBC and other broadcasters, and currently works as a freelance writer, poet and performer.

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