- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

A top World Health Organization official yesterday kept the pressure on China to cooperate in quelling the SARS outbreak, telling a House panel that the WHO is not sure whether China will commit the resources needed to contain the virus.”We believe China has the resources,” said WHO director of communicable diseases Dr. David L. Heymann. “We don’t know if China will commit the full resources necessary.”He noted that “public health has been neglected in China.”Dr. Heymann did say that cooperation from China on the SARS outbreak has improved, and he praised their new system for reporting SARS cases. Chinese officials have also told the WHO they have identified 37 persons with fevers by using an infrared system at certain border points, Dr. Heymann said.But he also said WHO officials have yet to review boxes of materials about SARS cases in China, particularly Guangdong province, where the disease is thought to have originated late last year.”What we understand is that the data is available,” Dr. Heymann told the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations. “We believe we will receive this data and analyze it.”While other parts of the world appear to have a handle on the flulike virus, it continues to spread in China and Taiwan, he said.He stressed that “the next weeks and months will determine whether the current outbreaks of international concern can be contained.” But he also said that containing any new disease is the responsibility of all countries.And Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stressed that “this is about a virus, not about a group of people or a community or a population.”The WHO also yesterday revised its estimates of the death rate from SARS, based on an analysis of the latest data from Canada, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Vietnam. WHO now estimates an overall case fatality of 14 to 15 percent, but notes that age plays a large part.The WHO said the fatality rate is less than 1 percent in people 24 or younger, 6 percent in people 25 to 44, 15 percent in people 45 to 64, and greater than 50 percent in people 65 and older.The CDC, National Institutes of Health and other scientists around the world are working on methods to diagnose and treat SARS. Witnesses told the panel it is remarkable that scientists have been able to identify the virus and publish its genetic sequence so quickly.”In the 1980s it took two years to identify HIV as the cause of AIDS,” said Barry R. Bloom, dean of the Harvard School of Public Health. In contrast, he said, WHO laboratories were able to identify the SARS virus in two weeks and sequence its entire genome in two more weeks. “Those labs shared their knowledge in an extraordinary fashion, to the benefit of everyone.”Some panel members asked the witnesses about SARS precautionary measures they felt were too extreme. The University of California at Berkeley is excluding from its summer program students arriving from Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and Singapore. Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusets Democrat, said that was “overly broad” precaution and asked Dr. Heymann what he thought.Dr. Heymann said the best thing is for the university to “sit down and discuss the issue” with the CDC to see if it is appropriate.

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