Preparing for SARS and Flu Epidemics

CHINESE HEALTH AUTHORITIES PREPARE FOR POTENTIAL SARS AND AVIAN FLU OUTBREAKS

As warmer weather begins to arrive in southeastern China, provincial and local authorities have begun to undertake a number of additional measures to prepare for potential SARS and avian influenza epidemics. On January 9, Shenzhen city officials staged a surprise drill meant to test the local medical and health ministry officials’ ability to handle outbreaks (Ming Pao, January 29). In Hong Kong, the Center for Health Protection (CHP) announced it had been notified by the Guangdong Province Health Department that there have been no human cases of avian influenza in the province (Xinhua, January 22). Yet, Dr. Thomas Tsang of the CHP called for health officials to remain vigilant because recent reports of avian flu cases in nearby Chinese provinces as well as Hong Kong indicate that the H5N1 virus remains active in local wild birds; on February 17, the body of a bird found in a park in Hong Kong tested positive for avian influenza (Xinhua, February 17).

Hong Kong has been particularly concerned with an outbreak of the avian flu or a resurgence of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and has implemented several precautionary instruments in recent months and years. Following the SARS epidemic in 2003 that devastated Hong Kong’s economy—in just months, unemployment rose to 7.8 percent and economic growth for the year decreased by one percent—Hong Kong undertook a number of preventive measures, including the implementation of a disease surveillance system and poultry control practices at farms, markets and ports. Such procedures, as well as the formulation of infection control guidelines and the training of healthcare workers, are meant to enable the city to react much more quickly and efficiently than it did in 2003. In 2005 and 2006, Hong Kong also signed agreements with Macau and Guangdong province that created cooperative mechanisms for public health emergencies to better facilitate communication between the various health ministries.