Top UN health official discusses SARS with Chinese authorities

Top UN health official discusses SARS with Chinese authorities

SARS coronavirus
A top United Nations health official arrived in China today to discuss severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) with senior authorities of the country where the newly emergent disease first struck and by the far the largest number of cases and fatalities have so far been reported.

During his one-day visit to Beijing World health Organization (WHO) Director-General nominee, Jong-Wook Lee, was meeting with Vice Premier Wu Yi and other officials in the ministries of health and foreign affairs to discuss SARS and other health issues in China.

As of today, China and its regions had reported 6,622 cases out of a global total of 7,183, with 453 deaths out of 514 worldwide.

Yesterday, a WHO team travelled to Hebei Province bordering Beijing municipality to assess the situation in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, marking the first time that a joint WHO-Ministry of Health team has been sent to a province.

WHO has expressed concern that Hebei could be particularly vulnerable to the spread of SARS, as the province has a large population of migrant workers - part of Beijing's "floating population".

The investigation there has two objectives: to review surveillance and case reporting systems, and to visit hospitals to assess procedures for patient management and infection control. In several outbreaks elsewhere, lapses in infection control have resulted in the infection of large numbers of hospital staff.

Dr. Lee, who was nominated in January for the post of Director-General, currently directs the WHO's Stop TB initiative. If confirmed by the World Health Assembly later this month, he will succeed current Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland for a five-year term in July.