|Vietnam shows how to beat
By Marwaan Macan-Markar
BANGKOK - Vietnam's success at curbing the
spread of the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome
(SARS) is fueling optimism among international health
experts that the latest killer disease can be put under
Vietnam has shown that the SARS
outbreak can be contained by "detection and protection",
David Heymann, an expert on communicable diseases at the
Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO), said here.
"We believe that SARS has stopped spreading in Vietnam,"
he told media. "And it has the capacity to detect if
SARS occurs again and to stop it from spreading."
Heymann's comments came in the wake of WHO's
removal of Vietnam on Monday from the list of countries
with local transmission of the atypical pneumonia, which
has killed more than 300 people from 26 countries and
infected more than 5,000 people across the world.
The United Nations health agency declared that
Vietnam is the first country to stall the local
transmission of SARS, which is said to have surfaced in
November in China's southern province of Guangdong.
According to WHO, Vietnam's new classification
is "significant", given that it was one of the four
countries initially identified on March 15 as having
local transmission of the deadly virus. The other places
in the region named at the time were Singapore, mainland
China and Hong Kong.
As of April 8, Vietnam had
reported a total of 63 cases and five deaths, according
to a WHO statement. But since then "there have been no
new cases" or "no cases of spread to other countries".
The 20-day period of no reported cases of new
SARS infections is "twice the maximum incubation period
for this disease", said Heymann, the executive director
at WHO's Communicable Diseases Cluster.
Southeast Asian country's success has been attributed to
a series of measures that health officials and workers
pursued as soon as the alarm bells went off about the
emergence of the atypical pneumonia.
measures included the immediate identification of
infected people, including whom they had met and where
they had moved, isolating SARS patients in hospitals and
those believed to have SARS, and providing protective
gear to health workers treating the patients, states
In addition, the Vietnamese authorities
screened international travelers leaving the country and
had "timely and accurate reporting and sharing of
information with other authorities and governments", WHO
"With the WHO's assistance and the
tenacity of the health workers in the hospital [in
Hanoi], they pursued very effective control and
prevention measures," said Mark Salter, a medical
officer at WHO's department of communicable disease
surveillance and control. "This stopped the spread of
the virus within its borders," he added. "The virus died
out, because there was no more people it could infect.
But that does not mean we can sit back."
was hit by the disease when a Chinese-American
businessmen with a high temperature was admitted to the
privately run French Hospital in Hanoi on February 26.
The patient had flown in from Hong Kong. Subsequently,
health workers who had treated the patient at this
hospital fell ill with the same the same flu-like
symptoms, which were subsequently identified as SARS.
The businessmen and four health workers died as a result
of the new virus.
"It's difficult to describe
the pain and tiredness of SARS. I had a terrible stomach
ache and my head felt like it would split open," Nguyen
Thi Men, a nurse at the French Hospital, wrote in the
April 18 issue of Vietnam News, an English-language
daily. She is the only health worker to survive out of
the first five of the hospital's staff who were
In addition to WHO and domestic
efforts, several donor organizations "moved in very
quickly to set up a system that helped overcome the
spread of SARS", said Bjorn Melgaard, WHO's
representative in Thailand. The French government, for
instance, announced in early April that it would grant
more than US$100,000 to help sterilize the French
Hospital, the epicenter of the killer virus in Vietnam.
Another hospital designated to handle SARS
patients was the state-run Bach Mai hospital. Patients
from the northern province of Ninh Binh have been
admitted to this government facility.
ability to control SARS, even though its health system
is unlike those in the more advanced city-state of
Singapore or Hong Kong, stems from the fact that it was
infected by just one case at the outset, the
On the other hand,
Singapore, which was designated as a SARS-affected area
at about the same time as Vietnam, has had to battle
with the disease spreading from three infected women who
arrived from Hong Kong. "That multiplied the problem,
unlike Vietnam," said Melgaard.
WHO is convinced that Hong Kong and Singapore, with
their advanced health systems, are on the verge of
putting SARS under control. "We believe that the
outbreak has stabilized in Hong Kong and Singapore since
April 11," said Heymann. "These countries are on the way
to decreasing the epidemic."