Sun, May 18, 2003 - Page 1 News List

WHO director hopeful about SARS battle

By Melody Chen and Wang Ping-yu  /  STAFF REPORTERS , IN GENEVA

The World Health Organization's (WHO) executive director of communicable diseases has expressed confidence about containing Taiwan's SARS outbreak and said the government's coordination "has improved dramatically."

David Heymann has just spent one and a half days in a video conference discussing epidemiological issues related to SARS with participants from more than 12 countries. At the end of the conference yesterday, Heyman expressed optimism about Taiwan's progress.

Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), the newly appointed director-general of the Department of Health (DOH) and a leading epidemiologist, also took part in the video conference to share Taiwan's SARS information with other countries.

Heymann said that as far as he knew, Chen was the first Taiwanese official for decades to participate in a formal WHO conference of this kind.

While the discussion on SARS will be a significant part at the World Health Assembly, Heymann said it is still unknown whether Taiwan will be invited to the technical briefing on the disease to be held during the assembly.

"We will see what will happen in the WHA.." Heymann said.

"We will be running a technical response to the epidemic," said Heymann, adding that the WHA will determine whether to include Taiwan's representation in the technical briefing.

"We include Taiwan as a technical partner in the outbreak, because everywhere the outbreak is happening is important. We want to stop it," Heymann said.

Meanwhile, Heymann said the WHO will send more experts to Taiwan "if we are required to do so by the government." But so far the government has not made such a request, according to Heymann.

As for current developments in Taiwan, Heymann said that he has seen excellent cooperation and that he believed the outbreak would be contained.

Chen, who had been chairman of the DOH's SARS Advisory Committee, will be arriving at Geneva on Tuesday, one day after the WHA kicks off.

Sources said that Chen will meet up with Secretary of the US Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, among high-ranking health officials from several countries that sympathize with Taiwan's cause to join the WHO.

Owing to the reshuffle of high-ranking health officials in Taipei, the first group of high-ranking officials, led by Deputy Director-General Lee Lung-teng (李龍騰), will be arriving at Geneva today, a relatively late arrival.

Taiwan's major lobbying group in the WHA -- the Foundation of Medical Professionals Alliance in Taiwan -- arrived in Geneva late yesterday.

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