Mon, May 26, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Buck doesn't stop with Chiu Shu-ti

At last Taipei City Bureau of Health Director Chiu Shu-ti (邱淑媞) has decided to behave responsibly by stepping down from her post. But we wonder why Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) waited so long.

Readers may recall that at the beginning of the SARS outbreak -- the end of March, though it seems like much longer ago -- Chiu was taking the central government to task for not treating the SARS threat seriously enough, specifically for not listing it as a statutory communicable disease. Ma himself, determined as ever to let nothing tarnish his "golden boy" reputation, took the opportunity to say that since the central government hadn't acted on Chiu's advice, it had only itself to blame if SARS spread in Taiwan.

Well SARS did spread, much to the government's embarrassment after earlier patting itself on the back over its "success in containing SARS." But it is worth asking exactly where it spread and how. As the death toll reaches 60, where did most of these unfortunate people contract the disease? And the answer is blindingly obvious. The bulk of infections occurred in Taipei hospitals, much of it among medical personnel treating SARS cases. Ground zero was the now notorious Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital, a city government-managed facility for which the Bureau of Health is directly responsible. When Chiu was lecturing the central government on preventing the spread of SARS she claimed that controlling the disease needed a strategy of "preparing for the worst." Yet the hospitals her department was responsible for -- Hoping, Jen Chi and Gan Dau -- were obviously not prepared for the worst at all. On this page a week ago the commentator Sun Ching-yu (孫慶餘) pointed out that it was all very well treating Hoping Hospital head nurse Chen Ching-chiu (陳靜秋) as a heroine and enrolling her name in the municipal martyrs shrine, but this hoopla seemed to miss the point that she should never have died of SARS in the first place. The more conspiratorially minded might even wonder whether the noise over Chen's heroism was deliberately intended to drown out embarrassing questions by the likes of Sun.

In this regard it might be relevant to recall the protests and criticisms at the end of last month from those who were -- and those who did their utmost to avoid being -- quarantined in Hoping Hospital. At the time much of the criticism seemed selfish as well as a betrayal of the ethics that medical professionals are supposed to possess -- a nurse protesting she might get sick is rather like a fireman protesting that he might get burned. Both are supposed to be highly trained experts in avoiding these work-related risks. But much was lost in the flood of indignation that the Hoping Hospital protesters and runaways generated. After all, they might have shredded their integrity, but that does not mean that none of their criticisms were valid. In particular, they complained that Hoping Hospital was utterly inadequate to deal with contagious diseases and should have been evacuated rather than its staff quarantined in the facility. Was it?

We hope that these questions will not be simply laid to rest with Chiu's departure. There appears to be a trail of gross mismanagement in Taipei's city government-run hospitals that needs to be thoroughly investigated by the Control Yuan. Taipei's city-government run hospitals have been an utter shambles during the SARS outbreak and more heads than Chiu's should roll.

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