Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Thursday, August 21, 2003

China, WHO Working Closely on Source of SARS Virus

The World Health Organization (WHO) is working closely with Chinese authorities to try and close in on the source of the potentially fatally SARS virus.


The World Health Organization (WHO) is working closely with Chinese authorities to try and close in on the source of the potentially fatally SARS virus.

It also wants to strengthen training in China to prevent infectious diseases from spreading in hospitals, officials said Wednesday.

"The WHO and the Ministry of Health will jointly launch a programme this September to train medical workers to prevent infectious diseases from spreading in hospitals," said Alan Schnur, who is responsible for communicable disease control at the WHO's Beijing office.

The first part of the training programme will be held in Beijing and will involve about one hundred medical workers from the capital and other regions of China, Schnur told China Daily during an exclusive interview.

And further training courses will be held in Beijing or other regions of the country, such as Changsha, capital city of Central China's Hunan Province. Schnur said altogether, several thousand medical workers will be trained.

Both overseas and domestic experts will be invited by the WHO and the ministry to offer their experience during the training sessions, he added.

However, the date for the start of the programme is yet to be decided and will be established after further discussion with the Ministry of Health, the WHO's representative said.

SARS become a disaster for many hospitals in the country, which registered 5,327 cases that resulted in 348 deaths in 24 provinces and regions.

A joint 14-member team of specialists from the Chinese Government, the WHO and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has finished its week-long SARS investigation in South China's Guangdong Province.

The team conducted field visits to markets and farms, research centres and healthcare facilities, as well as consulting with local officials, looking for a possible animal carrier of the SARS coronavirus.

The investigation remains a work in progress. The mission's objective is to determine what further studies are needed to explore the potential for an animal carrier, said WHO's Pierre Formenty, a Geneva-based zoonotic disease specialist and one of the team leaders.

Maria Cheng, a WHO spokeswoman in Beijing, said yesterday the experts also came away convinced that measures should be put into place regarding animal hygiene and how they are housed and handled in markets.

Schnur said there is no evidence to confirm what animal is the source of the virus and had transmitted it to humans.

Guangdong to invest millions

The team will report to senior officials from the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Health this afternoon.

In Guangdong, Vice-Governor Lei Yulan said yesterday his government has decided to invest more than 300 million yuan (US$36.14 million) to expand and upgrade the Guangzhou Research Institute of Respiratory Diseases -- a major research and clinic hospital for respiratory tract diseases in the southern province.

The money will be used to help find the causes and the transmission channels of SARS to prevent another outbreak in the coming months.

Guangdong has established a special task force consisting of esteemed doctors, experts and government officials to study the causes of the virus and develop new medicines to help prevent and cure it.

Schnur also pointed it is unknown whether SARS will return in November, when China's cold weather looks set to return, so all necessary steps should be taken to try and prevent the disease.

The WHO is working with the Chinese Government to implement enhanced SARS surveillance and response systems.

"I have not heard the news that there are new SARS cases in hospitals in Beijing and if the disease comes, I think we can control it immediately,'' Zeng Guang, a top epidemic expert from the Chinese Centre of Diseases Control and Prevention, told China Daily yesterday.

Zeng was refuting rumours that some new SARS cases had occurred in Beijing recently.

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