New forum to fight SARS

COOPERATION CRUCIAL: Medical experts concurred at the two-day event that the disease can only be beaten if all countries share their experiences and work together

By Joy Su  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sun, Sep 28, 2003 - Page 2

Eighty-one medical experts and scholars from around the world gathered in Taipei yesterday to participate in the two-day 2003 Asia Pacific Inter-city SARS Prevention Forum.

Hosted and organized by the Taipei City Government, the forum is geared towards establishing an international joint task force to fight against SARS and other infectious diseases. Experts from the US, Canada, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam and Singapore discussed their SARS experiences in an effort to improve future treatment and handling of a viral breakout.

During the opening ceremony, Taipei City Mayor and Forum President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said that SARS to date has affected 30 countries and claimed over 800 deaths.

In Taiwan, SARS-related deaths totaled 72 with 667 suspected cases treated. In Taipei alone, 30 citizens died of SARS, and there were over 200 suspected cases.

He said that despite a lack of medication to treat SARS and an inability to accurately identify the virus, everyone will be better equipped for a next possible outbreak.

Ma explained his vision for the international joint task force by referring to the recent isolated case of SARS discovered in Singapore last month.

He said that because Singapore promptly notified Taiwan of the situation, officials were able to take preventative measures.

Ma said that the next step toward SARS prevention is the establishment of an international protocol that would allow Asia-Pacific cities to work together effectively.

Lee Lung-teng (李龍騰), Deputy Minister of Health, agreed with Ma, saying that aside from detection and quarantine, honesty [in reporting the condition of SARS infection] is the most important strategy to prevent SARS.

He further said that he hoped China could be more honest, since Taiwan is directly affected by China's SARS situation.

The forum will examine several topics, including hospital infection control, infection surveillance, hospital response systems, SARS-risk communication and health education, social involvement and the psychological impact of SARS.

Peter Cameron, professor of accident and emergency medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, echoed Ma and Lee, saying, "The SARS episode represented a warning bell to us all. Warning us that diseases are out there, and we need to have the right systems in place to deal with them."

According to Cameron, SARS checks at airports are not enough.

"Even if you do a thorough check of everyone, you're still going to miss about 50 percent [of the SARS cases] anyway," Cameron said. He said that many patients did not exhibit symptoms while undergoing airport check-up routines, and concluded that SARS prevention depended on the support of various sectors of society.

Cameron also pointed out that judging by Hong Kong's experience, one hospital cannot be set aside as the sole center for SARS treatment because the disease will quickly overwhelm the hospital.

"All hospitals must be able to manage an outbreak internally," he said.

Walter Patrick, former director of the World Health Organization's Collaborating Center of International Health and Medicine and professor at the University of Hawaii, said, "Eradicating SARS is like climbing Mount Everest -- the last 200 yards are the hardest."

In response to an inquiry as to why China was not represented at the forum, Patrick said that caring for humans was a task that went beyond countries' borders.

"In the end, humanity is stronger than our individuality. With SARS, no man is an island. Basically, if you get SARS, I'm going to get SARS," he said.