Sun, May 18, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Time for heads to roll

A well-known tale from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三國演義) tells the story of how Kung Ming (孔明) ordered the execution of one of his favorite generals, Ma Su (馬謖). This caused Kung Ming great pain, yet Ma Su had disobeyed an order and as a result an important battle was lost.

Ma Su was like a son to Kung Ming. Yet Kung Ming knew that to maintain order and discipline among his troops, the general had to be punished. So Ma Su was beheaded and his head put on public display as a warning to others.

The battle against SARS has entered a new phase with the outbreak of infections at several major hospitals. President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) government has finally carried out its own painful executions by accepting the resignations of Department of Health Director-General Twu Shiing-jer (涂醒哲) and Center for Disease Control Director-General Chen Tzay-jinn (陳再晉).

Now all eyes are on Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to see whether he will dismiss Bureau of Health Director Chiu Shu-ti (邱淑女是).

Both Twu Shiing-jer and Chen Tzay-jinn go a long way back with the president. When President Chen was the Taipei mayor, Twu served as the director of the Bureau of Health and Chen Tzay-jinn was the superintendent of Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital. Letting them go couldn't have been an easy decision for President Chen. But he did it anyway because it was the right thing to do.

In contrast, when Ma was pressured by members of the Taipei City Council about Chiu's departure, Ma still insisted that all issues regarding fault and punishment could wait until after the battle was over.

But the problem is that the health and lives of the public can't wait. Ma's arguments might have made sense in an earlier phase of this battle. But, more than two months after the initial case of SARS infection, the government's efforts to prevent and control the epidemic have shown too little progress and made a mockery of the government's boasting about zero deaths and zero community transmissions.

This country has already lost five brave medical personnel to the epidemic. In comparison, in Hong Kong -- where the SARS death toll is much higher -- only two medical personnel have died.

This widespread infection of medical personnel surely has something to do with the extreme shortage of medical protective equipment, including simple things such as masks, in hospitals over the past weeks.

Everyone thought that a harsh and valuable lesson had been learned from the nightmarish experiences at the Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital and Jen Chi Hospital. But instead of containing and preventing SARS infections within those facilities, the outbreak has spread not only to the university hospital but also to the Mackay Memorial Hospital in Taipei and the Kaohsiung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital.

But even now many suspected SARS patients with high fevers are still being kicked around between the hospitals due to the insufficient number of sick beds for the squarantined. Many of these individuals have to stay in the emergency rooms for days, where they expose not only the medical personnel but also other patients to the risk of SARS infection.

Under the circumstances, is it too much to ask the heads of government agencies and bodies responsible for supervision of these hospitals to be accountable? More than ample opportunities and time have been given for the government officials in charge to make up for their past mistakes and improve the situation. Instead, they have come up with nothing.

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