Sun, May 04, 2003 - Page 1 News List

WHO experts arrive to deal with SARS

REASONABLE DOUBTS Senior officials expressed skepticism over Beijing's claim that it approved the international health organization's decision to come to Taiwan

By Monique Chu and Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

A Taoist martial arts group from Hubei in China perform their particular martial arts style, the Wudang style, during a public performance at the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall in Taipei yesterday. The group emphasized the health benefits of the exercise, and suggested that it could help ward off SARS. The group gives another performance in Ta-an Park in Taipei today.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

Two World Health Organization (WHO) experts arrived in Taipei last night to help with Taiwan's outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, according government and WHO officials.

WHO spokesman Dick Thompson said in a telephone interview late last night that experts with the communicable disease section of the WHO were in Taiwan to do a "preliminary assessment" of the SARS outbreak.

The experts are scheduled to stay in Taiwan for "a few days, or maybe a week" for their work, which was being done out of humanitarian concern, Thompson said.

The WHO will then decide whether it will dispatch more personnel to Taiwan, he said.

Senior officials yesterday were skeptical about China's role in the WHO's decision to send a professional team to help with Taiwan's outbreak of the potentially fatal flu-like disease.

Cabinet Spokesman Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) yesterday said that the government welcomes the move but the WHO's decision has nothing to do with China.

"Since the very beginning of the outbreak here, we've been in close and direct contact with the WHO," Lin said. "China played no part in the WHO's deciding to send medical experts to help us combat the disease."

China's Ministry of Health (MOH) said late Friday through Xinhua that China had allowed WHO officials could come to Taiwan to investigate the epidemic.

The Xinhua report also said the ministry would cooperate with Taiwan by sharing its experience and information with Taiwan in order to fight the spread of SARS.

According to Xinhua, the ministry also said the Chinese government has been very concerned about Taiwanese people's welfare and that the government has been very attentive to the development of SARS in Taiwan.

"I don't have faith in China," said Lee Lung-teng (李龍騰), deputy director-general of the Department of Health (DOH).

"On the basis of how China has treated us in the past, I don't think they could be sincere this time," Lee said.

Lee added he did not think China had displayed much goodwill when agreeing to an official WHO trip to Taiwan. "They [China] only want the WHO to see they are really taking care of Taiwan," Lee said.

According to Lee, China also intended to show off its influence over the WHO by agreeing with the officials' trip to Taiwan. "The WHO officials cannot come to Taiwan without China nodding its head," he said.

"They are simply playing politics. I will not play politics with them," Lee said.

Chen Ming-tung (陳明通), vice chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, said yesterday China would not soften its opposition to Taiwan's application to become an observer of the World Health Assembly (WHA).

Even though China has allowed the WHO officials to come to Taiwan, it still opposes Taiwan's entrance into the WHO because it simply will not compromise on its sovereignty disputes with Taiwan, Chen said.

Meanwhile, Wu Shuh-min (吳樹民), a presidential adviser, said yesterday that the arrival of the WHO officials might have already been too late to substantially help curb the spread of SARS in Taiwan.

"What can they do here? They can hardly help. As for us, we could at most but provide them with our experience [in combating SARS]," Wu said.

Wu, a doctor and president of the Foundation of Medical Professionals Alliance in Taiwan (FMPAT), Taiwan's major lobbying group in the WHA, is under quarantine, though he remains healthy.

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