Thu, May 15, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Legislator shifts blame for SARS on health bodies

AT LOGGERHEADS The central and local health administrations are being charged by a lawmaker with not heeding each other's warnings in time

By Fiona Lu  /  STAFF REPORTER

A lawmaker with a medical background has expressed regret for discord between the central and local health administrations which he said had worsened the SARS situation in Taipei City.

"The city's worsening infection situation could unfortunately have been caused by a wrong estimate by the city government that the city should be cautious about a community outbreak, said DPP Legislator Lai Ching-te (賴清德), instead of taking note of the central health department's judgment that eliminating mass infections occurring in hospitals should be the main priority among SARS prevention measures,"

Lai, a physician formerly in charge of the National Cheng Kung University Hospital, disclosed that the city's Bureau of Health urged the Department of Health to declare SARS a statutory epidemic as early as March.

The city administration neglected a warning from the Center for Disease Control that a prevention and control program should be embarked on to preclude the city from hospital infection.

"This negligence might have led to the fired Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital superintendent being unaware of the danger of hospital infections and he therefore decided to hide the first cases of infection, Lai argued. "The concealment, however, extended the local epidemic infection to a national level."

The lawmaker made the remark after calling for the city government to be more cautious about information released at a press conference yesterday morning with his fellow Legislator Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁).

Chen, who had served as a doctor at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, suggested the city government should be more careful about publishing the infection information, since a few unchecked proclamations by the city administration's head officials generated "much unnecessary panic" among the public.

In mid-April, the city health director publicly predicted that the city's infection situation should be clear by the end of that month, just before the mass infection at Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital, Chen noted.

The lawmaker revealed another unchecked report yesterday, about a part-time employee at the Pacific Sogo Department Store who had been reported as a suspected case before it was confirmed whether that infection could be traced to the department store.

The city government spokesman Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇), Chen went on, delivered an incorrect prejudgment about water pollution at the sealed Huachang Public Housing Complex which was later corrected, but created unnecessary fear among the residents.

The DPP lawmakers urged the city administration to be more careful when releasing such infection information, since "the Disease Control Law stipulated that the central government is the only administration with the power to announce significant information such as a declaration of an infection area or lifting an infection warning."

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