Tue, May 29, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Health official says rogue scientist to be dealt with soon


The Department of Health official who acquired samples of Burkholderia pseudomallei -- a bacterium which can be used as a biochemical weapon -- from a public hospital for use in her own research without obtaining official permission will be dealt with soon, Minister Hou Sheng-mou (侯勝茂) said yesterday.

Answering questions at a meeting of the Legislative Yuan's Health, Environment and Social Welfare Committee, Hou said that the department would take appropriate disciplinary action against Su Hsun-pi (蘇勳璧), a senior official of the Center for Disease Control, within the next two weeks for her unauthorized acquisition of the samples from a Taipei hospital more than four months ago.

Hou said that although the bacterium is an important cause of acute fulminant pneumonia and septicaemia in tropical regions and could be used by terrorists as a biochemical weapon, the bacterium's isolates are not spread person-to-person.

Hou made the remarks in response to criticism leveled against the department by opposition Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Tsai Chin-lung (蔡錦隆), who accused the department of negligence for failing to discipline Su -- the younger sister of Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬) -- four months after the incident was exposed by media.

KMT Legislator Lai Shyi-bao (賴士葆) lashed out at Su for creating a "hole" in Taiwan's disease prevention network by rashly acquiring the strains from a hospital for her own research without following standard control procedures.

"How could the department think of joining the WHO should news of this incident be reported abroad?" he asked.

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