Dick Thompson, a spokesman for the World Health Organization (WHO), said yesterday that the elimination of SARS cannot be done without Taiwan's help.
When asked whether the WHO will dispatch more experts to Taiwan to help with its SARS outbreak, Thompson said, "We care about this -- that there are technical people there present to help do what needs to be done."
Two WHO experts that have been assessing Taiwan's SARS outbreak were scheduled to leave the country yesterday.
Although the WHO did not send disease-control experts to Taiwan from the beginning of the outbreak, Thompson stressed that "there was never a vacuum period" in which the WHO had failed to offer help to Taiwan.
"There was a small team there with WHO partnership from the very beginning. So there won't be any vacuum period after this team [the two WHO experts] leaves," said Thompson.
Thompson went on to assert that the question of whether the WHO will dispatch more experts to Taiwan was more of a political issue than a health one.
"What you are asking is, `Will the WHO send more people from this building [the WHO headquarters] to go to Taiwan?'" he said.
Thompson said that if the question is "Will there be technical people in Taiwan to help?" then the answer is "yes."
"They will be there for as long as they are needed. There is already a large technical team there. They are from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," he said.
As for the two WHO experts who have been in Taiwan, Thompson described their work as "assessing the recent outbreak situation."
"What we need to do is to make a very rapid and quick assessment of what kind of sources are needed and what kind of technical expertise is needed to make sure they are provided," he said.
Thompson said that there is already a high level of technical assistance in Taiwan, but the assistance has not be efficiently organized. "It may be that technical expertise is not so important as the organization skills to take the advantage of the technical expertise that is already there," he said.
Thompson believed there are lapses in Taiwan's surveillance [of SARS] and hospital infection control. "The situation in Taiwan is still very worrying," he added.
When asked to what extent Taiwan's reporting its SARS cases has helped the WHO monitoring the disease on a global level, Thompson said controlling the disease really depends on everybody's help.
"By reporting the cases, we have been able to monitor and track the disease. It's been critical. Absolutely critical," he said.