Wed, May 21, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Fight SARS with societal security

By Huang Chang-ling 黃長玲 and Chen Ming-chi 陳明祺

The SARS epidemic continues to spread. Over the past few weeks, all our worries about community transmission have been confirmed by the sealing off and disinfection of the Huachang apartment complex. In fact, from the appearance of the epidemic until today, the general direction of the prevention effort has been toward an intense focus on medical treatment and individual patients.

Both governmental and non-governmental organizations have explained the symptoms of SARS through various media. They have also emphasized the importance of wearing face masks and washing your hands. If we want to be able to stop the spread of SARS, however, the discourse and the direction of preventive measures must also take the social aspect into consideration.

Preventive measures based on societal security are built on the concepts that there will be no individual safety without social safety and that helping others means helping oneself. This is a concept that involves not just morals and feelings. All circles of society should display love for our compatriots and care for those infected by SARS or those under home quarantine. The kind of societal security that would prevent the spread of the epidemic would have to be built not only on the individual conduct of each of us, but also on collective action.

Let's use those in home quarantine as an example. Over the past few days, we have seen several examples in the media of people violating their home quarantine. The government can issue steep fines, but if those under home quarantine do not get appropriate assistance and support, it will be difficult to implement these measures successfully.

This isn't a question of whether those under home quarantine are willing to follow regulations, but rather of whether they can be given sufficient support to allow them to sit out their quarantine. Society cannot simply put them under the surveillance of regular or military police and cold electronic monitoring equipment. They need extensive social support as well as a kind and unprejudiced environment. In such a situation, though it is the government's responsibility to allocate resources and build a support system, society's self-organizational abilities are also crucial.

Community epidemic prevention is not only a medical concept. It also means to advocate the necessity of community mobilization for successful epidemic prevention. At the same time, communities are not restricted to traditionally recognized neighborhoods, boroughs or communities. The community is a social network and a psychological concept that includes relatives, friends, charity organizations and community movements and associations.

The main point isn't only that we all should disinfect our home environment, but rather that we should become organizers, mobilizers or participants within our individual social network to participate in the building of societal security. We should be aware of the implication that every time quarantine is successful, fewer people need to be placed under quarantine, and that we will all be safer when the epidemic is under control.

Given these considerations, there are many substantive things that can be done. For example, associations and departments specializing in psychology or social work could set up telephone hot lines providing consultation services. Volunteer associations or retail businesses could provide various services such as purchasing groceries or doing tax declarations.

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