Poor coordination among SARS-fighting agencies and a lack of sufficient knowledge about the new disease in the initial stage of the outbreak are the major reasons for the deterioration in the SARS situation in Taiwan, said a World Health Organization (WHO) expert on Saturday.
Dr. David Heymann, director of the WHO's communicable diseases department, made the remarks in an interview with two local news agencies.
Heymann said the SARS outbreak in Taiwan is grave because the disease was imported to the nation from more than one source. In late March, he said, SARS-infected businesspeople returned from China, resulting in the simultaneous invasion by different transmission sources.
At that time, Heymann said, Taiwan was not fully aware of the characteristics of SARS and failed to adopt effective measures in time to contain the spread of the virus.
Poor coordination among the various SARS-fighting units has aggravated the situation, Heymann said, adding that it seems to him that the nation's health and medical institutions have operated independently and have been reluctant to cooperate closely.
Noting that a contagion should be treated as a single target, Heymann said all agencies and units participating in the battle against the disease at various levels should act as a single body.
As to the controversy regarding whether SARS patients should be kept in a single medical facility or dispersed to different hospitals, Heymann said it is up to the health authorities of the affected countries or areas to decide based on their own particular situations.
The most important thing is that full discussions and exchanges of information among relevant institutions are needed before such a decision can be made, he added.
To the best of his understanding, Heymann said, Taiwan obviously did not initially follow such procedures while handling issues regarding the mass transmission of SARS at Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital late last month.
Heymann acknowledged that the situation has since improved. The government has made progress in coordination among different medical institutions and public health units as well as in the understanding of SARS transmission and the upgrading of its ability to battle the outbreak, he added.
Based on reports furnished by the WHO expert team which has been working in Taiwan, Heymann said the WHO is confident that the country can succeed in containing the highly contagious disease in its own right.
Heymann said Taiwan will be removed from the WHO's travel advisory list only after the nation's average new daily SARS caseload falls below five.
As the number of new SARS cases in the country is still increasing rapidly, Heymann said he would not make a prediction on whether the nation has passed the worst point of the SARS outbreak.
If Taiwan can effectively enforce all quarantine orders and implement various preventive measures, it will be able to halt the SARS outbreak in the next 50 days, he said.