WHO Expresses Optimism China Can Control SARS 


Although China has reported the overwhelming majority of the world's SARS cases, the number of cases is dropping rapidly in many areas of the country, the World Health Organization said Tuesday as it expressed wary optimism that China could contain the respiratory disease, although it might take as long as a year.

Although China has reported the overwhelming majority of the world's SARS cases, the number of cases is dropping rapidly in many areas of the country, the World Health Organization said Tuesday as it expressed wary optimism that China could contain the respiratory disease, although it might take as long as a year.

Dr. Henk Bekedam said he was encouraged by the trend in China, where he is the WHO's representative in Beijing, and by that government's political commitment and mobilization of health workers to fight the new respiratory disease.

China has reported 5,248 of the world's 7,919 probable SARS cases. Of those, 3,273 are current cases.

Beijing has reported the largest cumulative number of probable cases in the country, 2,444. But Beijing is now reporting fewer than 20 new cases a day, down from 100 cases earlier in the epidemic. Guangdong Province, where SARS first appeared last November, has reported the second-largest cumulative total, 1,514 probable cases. For last seven days, Guangdong has reported fewer than five new cases each day.

Four other provinces (Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi and Tianjin) have each reported more than 100 cases.

The experience of carrying out measures to detect SARS and control the infection in areas with large numbers of cases shows that "you can contain" SARS, Dr. Bekedam told reporters by telephone from Geneva where the WHO is holding its annual meeting.

Dr. Bekedam said that after listening to scientists brief delegates from the WHO's 192 members he "did not believe that SARS should become endemic" in China.

Dr. Bekedam said he expected new SARS cases to appear in China for six months, maybe even a year. He also cautioned that experience had shown that if vigilance slipped, one case could lead to scores of others.

The most urgent need is improved infection control, Dr. Bekedam said. "If your hospital infection control is not in order, then instead of controlling it, you are spreading the disease," he said.

But to prevent spread, China needs donations of medical equipment like masks and other protective gear for health workers as well as mechanical ventilators, Dr. Bekedam said.

Other urgent needs include improving the infrastructure of the Chinese health system, which has been weakened over the last 10 to 20 years as the Chinese government has focused on economic development and invested less in public health.

Ma Xiaowei, the Chinese vice minister of health, told the meeting delegates that there was a distinct age pattern to SARS cases in China. For unknown reasons, SARS has generally spared children; 2.8 percent of the country's cases were in children younger than 14. The percentages for other ages were: 29 percent for ages 20 to 29; 23 percent for 30 to 39; 18 percent for 40 to 49; 11 percent for 50 to 59; and 10 percent in those 60 and older.

Seventy percent of the deaths occurred among people with heart disease or diabetes, he said.

Dr. Bekedam said the WHO and Chinese officials were making a major effort to determine the original source of the SARS virus in nature. If SARS jumped species, health officials need to find the source so they can develop strategies to deal with such animal reservoirs to prevent similar introductions in the future, he said.

Original source: People's Daily
Submit by CEIN  News on 5/22/2003