The death of Chen Ching-chiu (陳靜秋), a head nurse at Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital, has raised the nation's overall efforts in epidemic resistance to a state of war. Chen is just like a martyr who sacrificed her life for the country. The Taipei City Government gave Chen's family the highest level of compensation and proposed listing her as a heroine in the Taipei Municipal Martyrs' Shrine. The Legislative Yuan also passed a special SARS-prevention bill after three readings in just one day. All of these developments are owing to Chen's death. She has become a new totem.
While we extol Chen and worship her as a deity, has anyone stopped to think that she should not have died -- that a lack of adequate protection equipment and epidemic prevention contributed to her death?
When SARS started to spread across the globe in late March, all the reports pointed to high infection rates among medical workers. When two doctors -- an Italian who first discovered the virus and a physician at National Taiwan University Hospital who was the first doctor responsible for the diagnosis and treatment of SARS in Taiwan -- were infected with SARS, Chiu Shu-ti (邱淑女是), director of Taipei City Government's Department of Health, was busy fighting verbal battles with the central government.
Chiu said epidemic-prevention efforts had to be targeted at "preparing for the worst." She blamed the central government for not paying attention to endemic cases but only those cases brought into the country.
The end result is that the worst case of infection took place at Hoping Hospital, which is run by the Taipei City Government. The causes were a shortage of prevention equipment and negligence in prevention management. Hoping Hospital never "prepared for the worst." It has even come under suspicion of concealing the epidemic situation over a long period of time in order to keep a good track record.
After the situation finally spun of control, Hoping Hospital and the city's Bureau of Health held a joint press conference on April 24 and declared that "Taipei City's defense net against SARS has fallen apart and the epidemic situation has got out of control."
Consequently, not only was National Taiwan University Hospital's proud record of "three zeros" broken, but SARS marched into the community from the hospital as well. Some major community infections, such as the disaster caused by a Taipei Municipal Chien-kuo Senior High School student escaping from quarantine as well as children's mass infection in Wanhua District, are all related to Hoping Hospital.
Chen was the first sacrificial lamb to bad policy and faulty management. "Since the very beginning those people showing the most courage but lacking prevention equipment have been the first people to fall. It really makes us wonder whether the most courageous people should be the most unlucky," said Su Jui-chen (
Chen's death could have been prevented. It cannot be coverd over by the highest level of compensation and a place in a martyrs' shrine. Consolation money has no meaning to the deceased. Having a place in the martyrs' shrine only means a medal of honor, which is aimed at gratifying vanity.
When Napoleon set up the medal system, some people thought it was a play thing to fool people. Napoleon said the medal could be called a play thing or whatever because humanity is by nature ruled by it.
What needs to be explained is why Wu Kang-wen (
Who turned a blind eye to Chiu and encouraged her to question the central government and not accept the central government's orders? After Hoping Hospital committed a serious mistake, who gave Chiu a flower basket at Taipei City Council and decided the KMT and PFP should give up their interpellation in order to spare Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Chiu embarrassment?
It is these people who must be responsible for the fall of front-line medical workers -- those people who have no standards of right and wrong or care nothing about epidemic prevention must be responsible for Chen's death.
Sun Ching-yu is a freelance columnist.
Translated by Grace Shaw