|WHO, do you
By Wong Kwok Wah
HONG KONG - The World Health Organization (WHO)
is concerned about the sudden drop of new severe acute
respiratory syndrome (SARS) cases reported from mainland
China, doubting whether the epidemic's situation is as
good as what the figures show.
authorities are obviously adopting a definition
different from ours," Peter Cordingley, spokesman of WHO
West Pacific Regional Office (WPRO), said on Thursday in
an interview with Asia Times Online.
"There is a
wide spectrum of SARS patients. While some show all
kinds of symptoms including fever, coughing, etc, some
may show no symptoms at all. We are afraid the Chinese
authorities might not count those showing minimal
symptoms," Cordingley said.
admitted that WHO is also having a definition issue with
Hong Kong, which adopted a new formula different from
that of the United Nations health agency a few weeks ago
and afterward has been reporting single-digit growth of
"On the issue of Hong Kong, at least
we know what they are doing. Our team there is working
closely with the local authorities. But in China, there
is a lot we do not know," said Cordingley.
the information regarding China that the WHO is
receiving comes from only two sources: findings by WHO
missions and reports provided by the Chinese
authorities. All WHO missions thus far have been
escorted by Chinese officials. As Cordingley stated
quite simply: "We have no external information.
"We will be very happy if the latest [low]
figures from China are genuine, which means the
situation is being contained. But I'm afraid that may
not be the case at present," he added.
came short of accusing the Chinese authorities of
concealing cases or lying. "China is a vast country and
there are areas far away from the emperor," Cordingley
tried to explain. He nevertheless admitted
communications between WHO and the Chinese authorities
are still not as efficient as they had expected, this
despite China having adopted a policy of transparency
since April 20, when both the country's health minister
and Beijing's mayor were sacked for having covered up
the SARS situation.
The number of new SARS cases
reported from Beijing has been dropping drastically over
the past three weeks, from triple-digit to single-digit
figures. China's official explanation was that the
epidemic situation had been contained.
light could be shed from what an Asia Times Online
correspondent learned from a local Beijing reporter.
When the reporter asked an official of the Haidian
district of Beijing municipal why the SARS situation is
more severe in Haidian among all Beijing districts, the
official said, "Good hospitals are in Haidian. Many
patients came to our hospitals on their own, thus
pushing up our reported figure."
then disclosed that Haidian district had removed
patients with residential addresses outside the district
from their statistics and thus have the case figure
reduced. The question there remains: Will the local
authority of the patient's address report that
particular case as having occurred in its governed
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