Sat, May 10, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: The battle no one can avoid

Despite all the efforts to stop its spread, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) may be entering a phase of community transmission in this country. Dr. Lee Ming-liang (李明亮), deputy convener of the Cabinet's anti-SARS task force, has admitted as much. A number of cases have appeared in recent days with no apparent contact histories. Like it or not, both the government and the public must prepare for the worst.

When the first reported SARS cases appeared in early March, all could be linked to travel in China and Hong Kong. The second wave of transmissions came late last month, when mass infections were discovered at Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital and Jen-chi Hospital. Hoping Hospital's 14-day quarantine period ended Thursday. Some suspected SARS cases that cannot be traced back to the two hospitals continue to emerge. This indicates loopholes in the nation's epidemic-control network.

Taiwan must now prepare for a possible third wave of community transmission. It is better to err on the side of caution than to be overly optimistic as was the case last month.

The next round in the anti-SARS campaign will be very different from the quarantine measures slapped on Hoping and Jen-chi hospitals, where health-care workers were on the front lines of the battle to halt the spread of the virus. In the fight against community transmission, the frontlines can be anywhere -- public venues, offices, factories, even our homes. Everyone needs to work together to maintain those lines regardless of where they live, where they work, or which political party they support. A tiny lapse in vigilance could lead to mass infections such as those that occurred in Hong Kong's Amoy Gardens apartment complex.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) convened a high-level meeting on Thursday night where the decision was made to mobilize the military and police in epidemic-control work. The military and police resources will help ease the shortage of personnel and facilities at hospitals. They will also be a great help in quarantine and disinfection work.

Still, support from the military and police is not a decisive factor in this campaign. The most crucial task is to educate the public and to mobilize community and volunteer forces. To limit panic and prepare the public for possible community quarantine measures, the government should publicize information on community-level epidemic control work. The public should also be educated about personal hygiene -- regular epidemic bulletins should be published and regular disinfection rounds should be adopted.

To help ease public anxiety and inconvenience, medical institutions should also make full use of new test kits to shorten the time it takes to determine whether someone has SARS. The health-care network should also maintain its mobility and flexibility in order to tackle contingencies.

This is a fight that no one can avoid. Only united action can ensure victory.

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