Mon, Mar 31, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Faced with SARS, governments bicker

BLAME GAME While citizens look for answers on how the disease can be contained, the city and central governments are criticizing each other's handling of the outbreak

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Taipei City Government's charge that the Department of Health (DOH) has been inefficient in containing the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak has widened the rift between the city government and the central government.

The department drew criticism from Chiu Shu-ti (邱淑媞), director of Taipei City's Bureau of Health, for not immediately responding to Chiu's suggestion that SARS be listed as a statutory communicable disease.

Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) also said last week the department will have to take the greatest responsibility if SARS spreads in Taiwan.

Ma said the department must take the greatest responsibility because it did not quickly list SARS as a statutory communicable disease.

The DOH said that although it did not list SARS as a statutory communicable disease until last Thursday, it has been treating the infection as something more serious than a communicable disease.

While Ma and Chiu blasted the department for not immediately responding to their suggestion, a leading epidemiologist said one of the most important tasks in fighting SARS is proper cooperation between the two levels of government.

Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), professor of epidemiology at National Taiwan University (NTU), made the suggestion after a meeting last Sunday between medical professionals on how to curb the spread of SARS.

"It is important to strengthen cooperation between the central and local governments in tracing the development of SARS cases," Chen said.

According to Chen, the establishment of standardized procedures for reporting and handling suspected SARS cases is also significant.

Lin Reuy-shiung (林瑞雄), professor of epidemiology from National Taiwan University, said the city government was right to urge the department to list SARS as a statutory communicable disease, said Lin Reuy-shiung (林瑞雄), professor of epidemiology from National Taiwan University.

While agreeing with Chiu's suggestion that SARS be listed as a statutory communicable disease, Lin said many of the city government's measures are unnecessary.

Lin urged the public not to be in a rush to buy surgical masks, adding there are only three circumstances under which they are needed.

"First, they have a fever higher than 38?C. Second, they have respiratory problems. Third, they have traveled to infected areas or been in closely contact with SARS patients," Lin said.

Lin did not comment on whe-ther the department was too slow in listing SARS as a statutory communicable disease

"The DOH has to consider many aspects before doing so. However, it is unnecessary to make the public so nervous," Lin said.

According to Lin, SARS might be spread by droplet transmission and that people might be infected only when they are within 2m from of infected persons.

According to department Director-General Twu Shiing-jer (涂醒哲), the city government was wrong to suggest the department was not handling the matter appropriately.

"The DOH has asked all hospitals and health units to report SARS cases and formed a task force to handle the disease on March 17," Twu said.

Chen Tzay-jinn (陳再晉), director of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), said on Saturday that over the past two weeks, the center has convened interdisciplinary meetings on how to contain the disease.

"The CDC has been handling the outbreak with professionalism," Chen said.

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