- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2003

Companies worldwide, concerned about the economic effects of SARS, are working with the World Health Organization to create a fund to help developing countries detect and respond to emerging diseases.

Most of the money initially will go to China and surrounding Asian countries, the area hit hardest by severe acute respiratory syndrome. China has the most SARS cases, and the pneumonialike illness is continuing to spread there as well as in Taiwan.

“The government of China is very interested in having this rapid infusion of funding, which will complement what they are planning to put in the long term,” said Dr. David L. Heymann, director of the WHO’s communicable-disease section. He said their goal is to raise about $200 million.

The immediate goal of the fund is to help China eradicate SARS, if possible, he said. But in the long term, the fund will be used to improve general disease surveillance and response in all countries where these systems are weak or nonexistent.

Dr. Heymann said the idea for the fund was sparked when investment bankers approached the WHO. “Their vision is a long-term vision of better risk management at the global level for infectious diseases,” he said.

Dr. Heymann said the group includes “multinational corporations working in China who would like to be able to partner with China in measures to help China contain the outbreak and to do any essential research necessary.” He did not release the names of the participants.

The WHO also met this month with a group of scientists to discuss research that would be needed if SARS can’t be eradicated.

That research would include new ways that SARS could be transmitted — possibly through food, water, feces or sewage. It will look at whether SARS can survive food and water processing, and whether a person can get it by eating infected food.

The main mode of SARS transmission is through droplets expelled during close person-to-person contact when an infected person coughs or sneezes. But there have been a few indications that human waste can play a role in transmission.

Meanwhile, the number of SARS cases is climbing in Taiwan, which reported 65 new cases yesterday. The total in Taiwan stands at 483 probable cases and 60 deaths.

A scientist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who was working against SARS in Taiwan, developed some symptoms of the virus earlier this week. It is not clear whether the scientist, whom the CDC declined to identify, has the virus, but the scientist will return home and enter an Atlanta hospital this weekend.

The number of people infected with SARS worldwide surpassed 8,000 yesterday; 682 SARS deaths have been reported worldwide.

The number of daily new cases in China appears to be declining steadily from a high of as many as 200 in April to the mid-20s this week. Some students in Beijing returned to school yesterday after weeks off owing to SARS concerns.

However, China reported 26 new SARS cases yesterday, the largest daily increase this week. And experts are concerned there could be more cases not being reported in the rural areas, where access to health care is limited.

This story is based in part on wire service reports

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