'China learned important lessons from Sars'
Health official says strong leadership needed during a crisis
The mainland has been the 'greatest victim' of Sars and learned important lessons from its fight against the disease, Vice-Minister of Health Gao Qiang told an international Sars conference yesterday.
Mr Gao said the outbreak taught the mainland that strong government leadership and disease-control regulations were needed to tackle a medical disaster on such a large scale.
'At the beginning, our response was insufficient. There was a lack of understanding of the disease, inadequate preparedness and organisation was fragmented,' Mr Gao told the conference.
'But China soon realised the importance of controlling the disease and acted swiftly and responsively.
'We have enhanced our government leadership and legislation. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have made controlling Sars the top priority of government work.'
Mr Gao is in Malaysia representing China at a World Health Organisation meeting on the disease.
Since it emerged in Guangdong last November, the disease has spread to 25 of the country's 31 provinces. Up to yesterday the mainland had recorded 5,327 cases, including 969 health-care workers. A total of 346 people have died from Sars and 4,656 have recovered.
Mr Gao said the outbreak had been under control since May. In the first 10 days of last month there were 150 new cases. The figure dropped to 45 in the second 10-day period in May and further to 13 in the third 10-day period.
During the first four days of June, no more than five new cases were reported daily. And in the following 12 days, there were no new cases.
Mr Gao added that authorities had mobilised rural communities to fight Sars and only 242 farmers came down with the disease, representing 4.5 per cent of all cases.
Henk Bekedam, the WHO's representative in China, said the mainland's rural areas remained a potential problem as it was still possible they could be ravaged by an outbreak.
'We have seen evidence that rural areas are becoming far more prepared. But yes, the concern remains. The public health system remains rather weak,' Dr Bekedam said.
He said the WHO was confident it could now verify the number of infections in rural areas. 'We can confirm [the situation] in the provinces we have been to, but not the provinces we have not been to,' he said.