WHO Global Conference on SARS Opens in Malaysia

The world has moved collectively to combat severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) as health has become central to human and economic development, Malaysian Health Minister Chua Jui Meng said on Tuesday.

Delivering a keynote address at the opening of the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Conference on SARS at Sunway Lagoon, some 30 km west of the capital, Chua said that after the outbreak of SARS, "individually nations have executed action plans and are working out their own salvation, regions have moved collectively to combat SARS, globally WHO is the flag bearer for humanity."

The two-day conference is attended by some 1,000 scientists and clinicians who have been at the front line of SARS research and response regionally and globally since the outset of the outbreak.

"All that has been done across the globe against SARS by humanity collectively must become the model for man's response to new microbes that will surely threaten humanity in the future," Chua said.

Citing bold measures taken by Malaysia and other countries in southeast Asia, he said his country have had only five probable cases and two deaths to date, but all imported.

The last case in the region was registered on May 11 in Singapore and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is now a SARS-free region, he added.

"The price for being SARS-free here in the region and elsewhere in the world is continued vigilance and action," he said.

The conference comes at a time when the intense round-the-clock emergency actions needed to contain the initial outbreak have slowed and the scientists and clinicians have thus been allowed more time to assess evidence and bridge gaps in the knowledge of the disease.

At the conference, specialists and scientists are expected to debate and unfold the mysteries of the killer disease.

From the conference, the WHO hopes to gather experts' views on the effectiveness of the response to date and the likely evolution of SARS in the near future and longer term.

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