Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, has decided to accept help in its battle against Sars from fledgling non-governmental organisations (NGOs,) including those with religious affiliations. The Hebei provincial radio station recently interviewed 13 Catholic nuns who volunteered to join frontline health workers and care for Sars patients. The nuns, who trained as nurses, had offered to take up duty anywhere in the country. Five religious groups representing Buddhists, Taoists, Catholics, Protestants and Muslims have donated 90,000 yuan (HK$84,600) to the emergency Sars-fighting fund. 'The provincial government was very appreciative that we planned to print and distribute health information on preventing and detecting Sars,' said Father John Baptist Zhang Shijiang of the Faith Press in Shijiazhuang. Deng Guosheng, deputy director of the NGO Studies Institute at Tsinghua University, said that by accepting help from non-governmental organisations the government was acknowledging that these groups could perform certain tasks faster and more cost-effectively than official bodies. 'The Sars outbreak helps highlight the contribution of the NGOs in the time of crisis,' he said. The central government learned how NGOs could help with disaster relief when Japan and Taiwan suffered catastrophic earthquakes. In recent years, Chinese NGOs helped with relief work during the Yangtze River flood of 1998 and the ice storms in Inner Mongolia in 2000. The NGOs were slow to act at the start of the Sars outbreak because of secrecy as to its true extent. Mobilisation began in earnest after April 20, when higher numbers were reported, Mr Deng said. The Red Cross Society of China, the China Charity Federation, as well as the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Health Ministry have been authorised to accept large donations.