Wed, May 07, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Expert warns of health-care hole

ADVICE Dr. Jim Lando, a US specialist in disease control, said health experts are spending too much energy identifying SARS cases and not enough on other matters

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

The two visiting US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials, Dr. Jan Jernigan, right, and Soju Chang, leave Taiwan's CDC building after working with the two visiting WHO officials, Dr. Steve Martin and Dr. Cathy Roth.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

The mass transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital highlights problems faced by the nation's medical institutions including the manpower, organizational structure and decision-making mechanisms, a US medical expert said.

"The nation's medical manpower is insufficient, and the country has a limited number of medical experts and they are too preoccupied with identifying SARS cases when maybe they should be working on preventive measures or administrative decisions," Cabinet Spokesman Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) quoted epidemiologist Dr. Jim Lando as saying yesterday morning.

Lando is one of the three medical experts dispatched by the US' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (USCDC) to help the nation monitor the SARS outbreak. He made the remark while meeting with Premier Yu Shyi-kun at the Executive Yuan on Sunday morning before his departure.

Lando was accompanied by Director of Department of Health Twu Shiing-jer (涂醒哲), Chen Tzay-jinn (陳再晉), director-general of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and de facto US ambassador to Taiwan Douglas Paal.

Remaining low-key during most of his one-week visit, Lando is best known for reportedly making the controversial comment that "Taipei City is out of order" when the Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital was sealed off on April 26 to constrain the spread of the virus. But Lando later denied that he had made the remark through a statement issued by the American Institute in Taipei, the US de facto embassy in Taiwan.

There are two more USCDC medical experts in Taiwan. They are Dr. Dan Jernigan and Soju Chang.

They are working with two medical experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) who arrived on Sunday.

To solve the manpower problem, Lando proposed that the government should make more efforts to train health workers.

"While the USCDC has about 400 medical experts and staff dedicated to the tackling of the SARS outbreak, the CDC under the Department of Health has very few," Lin said.

Taking into account the lack of clear-cut decision-making mechanisms and structural organization of the nation's epidemic prevention system, Lin said, Lando proposed that the government refer to the USCDC's epidemic prevention guidelines.

The USCDC published a detailed manual in 1970 to assist general hospitals with isolation precautions. The manual could be applied in small community hospitals with limited resources, as well as in large, metropolitan, university-associated medical centers.

In related news, Chen yesterday was harshly criticized for canceling an arranged interview with CNN to discuss the nation's efforts in battling the SARS outbreak.

Defending his colleague, Lin yesterday said that there was a legitimate reason for Chen to cancel the arrangement because he was accompanying Lando to meet the premier at the arranged time.

"It's totally untrue that the health department couldn't find anyone to do the job," Lin said.

According to Lin, Chen was picked by Twu to represent the government to accept the interview with the CNN between 10pm and 11pm eastern time on May 3.

Chen had originally agreed to do the interview but later found out that it had to be done in a local studio.

After failing to find a suitable replacement, Lin said the health department decided to cancel the interview.

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