Sat, Nov 29, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Officials plan for future epidemics

BETTER MONITORING The Center for Disease Control will keep tabs on retail sales of thermometers and medicines in order to predict trends of serious disease

By Joy Su  /  STAFF REPORTER

New efforts to improve the nation's disease-control measures will include a retail-monitoring system and hospitals specializing in infectious diseases, according to health officials.

"One of the most urgent agendas at this conference concerns preparation for a large-scale flu outbreak," Lee Ming-liang (李明亮), former Department of Health director-general, told the National Health Research Institute's National Health Forum yesterday.

Lee explained that experts predicted a large scale flu outbreak will occur once every 30 years, with the next pandemic expected within five years.

Noting the inadequacies of the Infectious Disease Prevention Law (傳染病防治法) in dealing with SARS and potential future epidemics, Su Ih-jen (蘇益仁), director general of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), outlined new policies aimed at better controlling outbreaks of contagious diseases.

"Right now, surveillance of disease outbreaks depends on reports from the 800 hospitals in our surveillance network," Su said.

By law, doctors who fail to report cases of infectious diseases can be fined, but Su said fines were rarely imposed. He also said that few doctors in the country had epidemiological training, which also affected the reporting infectious diseases.

Su said the CDC would review the sales records of health-related items such as thermometers and over-the-counter drugs as a means of projecting disease trends.

"We've talked to convenience stores such as 7-Eleven and Cos-med about establishing a National Retail Data Monitor," he said.

"When people are sick, the first thing they do is go to a convenience store to buy medication. People only visit a doctor afterwards. A sudden peak in thermometer sales could alert us to a possible outbreak. This system will enable us to predict disease outbreaks about one week earlier than hospital reports would allow," Su said.

He said that the policy would be implemented pending approval from the Legislative Yuan.

Chin Chuan-chun (金傳春), a professor at the National Taiwan University College of Public Health, agreed.

"While the monitoring system would require a lot of data and workers to process the data, the system would be able to catch outbreaks before they become widespread," Chin said.

Su said there are also plans to establish hospitals that would focus exclusively on treating infectious diseases.

"We're pushing for legislative amendments that would change the CDC's organizational structure and allow its hospital infection-control committee to become an independent entity. The committee would be in charge of the 25 hospitals set to become exclusive infectious disease hospitals," Su said.

"Since patients going to a hospital for treatment of contagious diseases are not currently separated from other patients, you might contract a disease after going to the hospital for treatment of another condition," he said.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) also expressed concern over health reform policies when he addressed conference participants during the opening ceremony.

Chen said medical treatment was the last line of defense in ensuring public health and he issued a call for high standards of living.

"The average per capita income in Taiwan has exceeded US$13,000, but our quality of life has yet to meet the standards associated with this level of wealth," Chen said, adding that inadequate public infrastructure has a direct impact on health.

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