Thu, May 01, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Guarding the nation's health a job for everyone

By Yeh Hai-yen 葉海煙

As medical workers are standing on the front line of the fight against severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), there should be a consensus that "controlling the epidemic is like going to war." But, when the Executive Yuan ordered the Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital to shut down on April 24, we saw some cases of irrational resistance. Some mem-bers of the media echoed the views of a few patients and their family members, as if a hospital shutdown was a major disaster. It was heartbreaking to see some reporters use inappropriate words such as "concentration camp."

Although the large-scale infection at Hoping Hospital pricked a hole in Taiwan's epidemic control strategy, our efforts still deserve approval and praise. The SARS situation is not yet critical, but the Hoping Hospital case is a lesson for public health and hygiene. At the same time, it is an opportunity for us to consider how to improve our public health IQ.

First, we should see things through other people's eyes and try to envision ourselves in their positions. Because of the unexpectedness of the quarantine, people should treat the hospital shutdown in a rational, calm manner and tolerate the temporary inconvenience. Extraordinary measures are necessary in extraordinary times.

A few days ago when reporters questioned Singapore officials about how they would respond if someone in quarantine escaped, an official gave a curt answer -- "We still have prison!" Now, it seems like it is necessary for the rule of law to come into full play.

Second, we should be on alert and treat anyone infected with the SARS virus as a forerunner of other people's possible infection. Once someone gets sick, no one can be spared from the illness in today's global village.

Prudence is a virtue. Those people in temporary quarantine must bear in mind other people's health and must remain patient in this time of difficulty. At the same time, the media should not favor sensational stories. We must treat this unfortunate event in a calm manner and absolutely not take pleasure in other people's misfortune or believe we can get away with a little luck.

Yeh Hai-yen is director of the department of philosophy at Soochow University.

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