Mon, May 05, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Cabinet denies China sent WHO team

EXPERT TEAM Two epidemiology and virology experts from the global health body arrived on Friday, but at the invitation of the Center for Disease Control, officials said

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Executive Yuan yesterday reiterated that China played no role in the World Health Organization (WHO) sending two medical experts here to help combat the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak.

"Their decision has nothing to do with China because they came under the invitation of Chen Tzay-jinn (陳再晉), director-general of the Center for Disease Control, who made the request during a medical seminar in Geneva earlier this week," said Lee Lung-teng (李龍騰), deputy director-general of the Department of Health.

Lee made the remark yesterday afternoon during a press conference held after an inter-ministerial meeting convened daily at the Executive Yuan to discuss the impact of SARS.

According to Lee, the health department received a telephone call from the WHO on May 2 confirming the visit of the two medical experts.

"They may stay here for a while since they didn't specify an exact departure time," Lee said.

Lee added that the two-person team, with expertise in epidemiology and virology, will visit hospitals and consult with local health authorities.

As the first mission dispatched by the WHO to Taiwan since Taiwan was forced out of the health body in 1972, the two WHO specialists' detailed schedule in Taiwan has been kept confidential.

Lee and Chen both declined to reveal the WHO officials' names, nationality and itinerary, saying the WHO officials would not speak to the media.

"They need to respect their boss' command. It is already unprecedented that they will come to Taiwan," Chen said.

"It is their first time visiting Taiwan. It is not good that they meet with the media, just as it is improper that a boy kisses a girl when they first meet," Chen said.

"We have been pen pals for more than 30 days," Chen said, adding that he has been in contact with the two officials to report on Taiwan's SARS cases.

Chen said while the SARS outbreak rages on, every day was like a year to him.

"Although I have been writing to them [the WHO officials] for about 30 days, we are like old friends," he said.

"We will reveal information about their trip to Taiwan only after they leave," Chen said.

As the outbreak has affected a number of hospital staff, Lee said, a principal focus of their visit will be on the possible need to strengthen infection-control procedures. They will also advise officials on how to best stop the spread of the virus.

In addition to the two WHO experts, Lee said that two more medical experts from the US' National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health arrived here on Friday, while a medical expert from the US' Center for Disease Control and Prevention is scheduled to return today.

Amid concerns of community transmission of SARS, Lee yesterday said that there is no sign that there is any community transmission so far.

Lee defined community transmission as the transmission of the virus is via the environment instead of close contact with sufferers.

To help regional health clinics and healthcare personnel better handle inner-hospital transmission, Lee said that the National Health Research Institutes is scheduled to hold a symposium on May 5 to discuss the measures adopted by Taipei City's Armed Forces Sungshan Hospital and Jen Chi Hospital.

To prevent Taiwanese nationals from making unnecessary contacts with people from China, the government will offer incentives to encourage the public to report to authorities about smuggling or stowaways.

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