Thu, May 08, 2003 - Page 2 News List

WHO `happy' to help Taiwan, US health expert says

CONTROLLING SARS The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention praised the government but said tough times lay ahead

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

The head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday that her agency and the World Health Organization (WHO) were "very happy" to help Taiwan deal with the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

In a press briefing in Atlanta, Georgia, on the global SARS situation, CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding praised the way Taiwan had handled the epidemic and pledged her organization's commitment to helping fight the disease.

"Taiwan has some marvelous medical facilities and significant capacity to manage a public health emergency," Gerberding told reporters. "But this is a very large situation for them now," she said, referring to the recent rise in the number of cases and deaths.

"They have requested technical assistance and other forms of assistance, and WHO and CDC are very happy to contribute what we can," she said.

The CDC has sent three experts to the country to monitor the outbreak, and two doctors from the WHO arrived on Sunday.

Gerberding's remarks, in response to questions from reporters, are believed to be the first extensive comments about Taiwan's battle against SARS since her organization issued a travel advisory for the country last Thursday, advising people worldwide to avoid unnecessary travel to Taiwan during the SARS epidemic.

Taiwan at first "did an excellent job of containing the first round of illness that appeared there, but unfortunately a traveler went to the country while ill and initiated a series of chains of transmission in various settings," Gerberding said.

She also expressed concern that doctors and nurses had caught the disease in hospitals and served as vectors for transmitting SARS to others.

"So, it's an example of how quickly a situation can get out of hand," she said.

Gerberding noted that Taiwan's approach to handling the disease is the same as the CDC's, which has used a centralized coordinating body supported by a number of specialized teams, such as clinical, laboratory and epidemiology teams.

"Taiwan is taking a very similar approach," Gerberding said. "And soon, I'm sure the WHO people who have arrived will be increasingly involved in this as well."

"So, they're using a multidisciplinary coordinated team approach, and I think that's been one of the ways to make sure that the right hand and the left hand know what's going on," she said.

"They're implementing a very aggressive strategy for identifying contacts in case patients and initiating quarantine when appropriate to prevent spread from potentially exposed people.

"That has been a step that has been necessary in Hong Kong and Singapore to gain control of the epidemic, and so they are obviously implementing that in Taiwan as the next stage of the response, when the early measures failed to prevent transmission," she said.

Meanwhile, a bill approved unanimously by the US Senate last week supporting Taiwan's role as an observer at this month's annual meeting of the World Health Assembly in Geneva has been reported to the House of Representatives and referred to the House International Relations Committee.

The committee must decide how to reconcile the Senate bill with it's own bill on the matter, which is worded differently, in order for the legislation to be sent to President George W. Bush for him to sign it into law.

House committee staffers were unsure Tuesday how that would be accomplished, although quick action was expected.

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