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UN official dies of SARS while on mission in China

UN official dies of SARS while on mission in China

The United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) today is mourning the death of a senior official who died of a serious respiratory disease, which has killed nearly 90 people around the world, while on mission in China.

"In just a few days, Pekka [Aro] was taken away by a sudden illness, which according to our latest information, was Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)," ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said in a statement. "We know little about this new and devastating illness, for which there is no vaccine, no cure. But for us it has truly hit home."

According to the statement, Mr. Aro left for Asia three weeks ago to prepare for the China Employment Forum which was due to start today, but has now been postponed. On 28 March, he fell ill with symptoms of gastroenteritis and was hospitalized five days later. Mr. Aro was subsequently diagnosed with atypical pneumonia and died in Beijing early yesterday morning.

"We knew Pekka as a hard worker, an effective mobilizer, a believer in excellence. We valued his loyalty and friendship, his dedication and commitment. He was generous with his time, his advice, and his support. This is a great shock to us all and a terrible loss for our organization," Mr. Somavia said.

A Finnish national, Mr. Aro was married and the father of three. In addition to his duties as director of the ILO department for skills development, he did groundbreaking work on labour and employment issues in Central and Eastern Europe and was an acknowledged expert on employment issues.

UN colleagues in Beijing who were in contact with Mr. Aro have now been quarantined, Mr. Somavia said. Concerned about Mr. Aro's then rapidly deteriorating health, ILO and World Health Organization (WHO) workers collaborated with Chinese authorities in Beijing in monitoring his condition.

The latest figures from WHO indicate there have been more than 2,400 reported cases of SARS and 89 deaths in 18 countries.