Tue, May 06, 2003 - Page 3 News List

WHO visit no victory, DOH says

SARS The deputy director-general of the Department of Health says that the experts' presence here is important, but it won't help Taiwan's efforts to join the world body

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan should not consider the visit of two medical experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) as a partial success in the nation's efforts to gain observer status in the international organization, a health official said yesterday.

"I'd really hate to see the visit be regarded as something that will help us gain access to the WHO, because they're two entirely different issues," said Lee Lung-teng (李龍騰), deputy director-general of the Department of Health (DOH).

Lee added that the government would be happy, however, if the experts made such a recommendation to the world body after they leave, most likely on May 16.

"We won't take the initiative to bring up the issue, however, because that's not the purpose of their visit here," Lee said. "We'll honestly tell them about the situation here and how we've been handling the outbreak -- instead of suppressing it as they did in China."

According to Lee, the WHO team, with expertise in epidemiology and virology, will visit hospitals and consult with health authorities.

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

Taking into account the media's curiosity about the duo and their professional opinions, Lee said that he would convey the media's requests to meet them and ask questions.

"Of course, we'll totally respect their decision," Lee said.

Lee admitted there is no guarantee that lives would be saved if Taiwan becomes a member of the WHO. However, the nation would get faster and better access to information and assistance from the organization.

"China shouldn't have covered up the information and situation about SARS in the first place," Lee said. "With more than 10,000 Taiwanese visiting China, Hong Kong and Macau each day, it's hard to stop the spread from across the Strait when the Chinese government tackles the matter in such a haphazard manner."

According to Jeff Yang (楊家駿), director of the Mainland Affairs Council's Department of Legal Affairs, since the outbreak here in March, the Straits Exchange Foundation (海基會) has provided SARS-related information to its Chinese counterpart, the Association of Relations Across the Taiwan Strait.

Instead of reciprocating the gesture, Yang said, China provided SARS-related information to a Taiwanese lawmaker representing one of the offshore islands.

Although Yang refused to name names, New Party Legislator Wu Cheng-dean (吳成典) represents Kinmen County and PFP Legislator Tsao Yuan-chang (曹原彰) represents Lienchiang County.

Turning to the issue of hygiene and disease prevention, Lee noted that the WHO has confirmed that the SARS virus is stable in feces and urine at room temperature for at least one to two days. It can survive for up to four days in stools from diarrhea patients.

In light of this, Lee called on SARS patients to clean their toilet bowls with diluted bleach to prevent the spread of the virus. At the same time, they should dispose of their toilet tissues -- as well as the water they use to brush their teeth -- by flushing them down the toilet, he said.

"Although it's not necessary for the general public to do so, we'd like SARS patients to pay attention to personal hygiene such as thoroughly washing their hands after going to the toilet and covering their mouths and noses when sneezing or coughing," he said.

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