Sun, May 13, 2007 - Page 4 News List

SARS death sensitized ultra-marathon runner to urgency of Taiwan WHO role


Long before Taiwanese ultramarathon runner and former teacher Kevin Lin (林義傑) accepted the invitation to join the "Run for WHO" campaign in Geneva today, he realized the urgency of Taiwan joining the organization after learning about the death of a student's mother from SARS on TV in 2003.

The mother of his student at St. Francis High School, who called him frequently to discuss her son's classwork, was Hoping Hospital head nurse Chen Ching-chiu (陳靜秋) -- the first health worker to die at her post taking care of SARS patients in the quarantined hospital during the SARS outbreak.

"That's when I started to realize the importance of Taiwan joining the global disease prevention system ... We need to let the world know that Taiwan doesn't join the WHO to receive, but rather to give," Lin said during a private meeting with reporters in Geneva.

The SARS epidemic claimed 73 lives in Taiwan and caused an estimated NT$100 billion (US$3 billion) in economic damage.

A mere two months after returning to Taiwan from a 110-day crossing of the Sahara Desert, Lin said he immediately accepted to the Foreign Ministry's invitation last month to attend the campaign and canceled local events to fly to Geneva.

"Sports, health and medication can't be separated. Sports cross national borders and so does the WHO. The mission of the WHO is to help others, and Taiwan's experience in fighting SARS is precious and helpful," he said.

Lin will join other WHO activists in the "Run for the WHO -- Taiwan walks along with the world" campaign along Geneva Lake today, while two similar events were held yesterday in Taipei and Kaohsiung.

Similar events were held around the world, including in Tokyo, Seoul, New York, Atlanta, and Tuvalu.

Also traveling to Geneva to support Taiwan's bidwas a man surnamed Hsiao () and his wife -- who was the first confirmed SARS case in Taiwan -- joined Lin to urge the WHO not to exclude Taiwan from the global health prevention network.

"If the WHO had extended a hand to us earlier, the situation wouldn't be that serious," Hsiao said yesterday in Geneva.

Despite having to rely on an oxygen support system because of her exposure to SARS, she and her husband, who both declined to give their full names, decided to make the trip to highlight the WHO's violation of Taiwanese people's health rights by refusing to allow the country to join it.

"Even though I survived SARS, my health is deteriorating and my neighbors still avoid me as if I were contagious. For me, the disease never went away," she said.

Initially, doctors had diagnosed Hsiao as having a severe case of the flu. After two months in hospital and delayed treatment -- in spite of the virus having been identified in China and Hong Kong, Hsiao's lungs were severely affected by the virus.

During the outbreak, only two WHO officials from an ad hoc team visited Taiwan. The WHO had previously refused Taiwan's direct request for urgent assistance, as it is not a member of the organization.

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