Sun, May 11, 2003 - Page 5 News List

The Philippines protests against its WHO rating


The Philippines said yesterday it would ask the World Health Organization (WHO) to reevaluate the country's level of infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) after several countries moved to restrict the entry of Filipinos over the health scare.

The Philippines, which has reported 10 infections by the pneumonia-like respiratory illness and two deaths, has been classified as having a "medium" level of risk of transmission of the virus.

A "medium-level" designation by the WHO means the virus has been passed on to at least three people from an original carrier.

"We and the Department of Foreign Affairs would be protesting against the WHO in Geneva to clear the classification of the Philippines regarding SARS," said Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit.

While Manila has no plans to file a formal protest, DFA spokesman Victoriano Lecaros said it was "more correct to say we want to get that listing rectified."

"The intention is to get that thing corrected," Lecaros said.

WHO country representative Jean-Marc Olive was to meet later yesterday with Foreign Secretary Blas Ople to discuss the issue.

Taiwan, Kuwait, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates are among those who reportedly have banned the entry of Filipino workers because of fears of SARS, in response to the WHO designation of the Philippines as a medium-level country for SARS infections.

Such restrictions would be a severe blow to the country's economy, which relies on the remittances of more than seven million Filipinos working overseas as a major source of foreign currency.

He called the WHO listing "harsh and unfair" because it lumped the Philippines, with just 10 confirmed cases, into the same category as nations that had reported more than 100 SARS infections.

"There has been a failure with WHO Geneva's interpretation," Dayrit said, noting there was little evidence to suggest SARS was spreading through the Philippines.

The health secretary spoke of the string of phone calls he had made to officials in other countries as well as the WHO headquarters to discuss the designation.

WHO representative Olive stressed in a statement on Friday that the Philippines presented a "negligible" SARS risk to travellers and did not deserve to be included in travel advisories.

Late on Friday, Singapore, removed the Philippines from a travel advisory after it had been placed on the list a day earlier

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