Information gathered will make future 'emergent' epidemics easier to contain International health experts who are in Hong Kong to probe the Sars outbreak that claimed nearly 300 lives said yesterday the lessons to be learnt here and overseas would help the world community better control future outbreaks. Members of the public health group of the Sars Expert Committee began their five-day work session with meetings with the Director of Health Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, Hospital Authority chief executive William Ho Shiu-wei and Permanent Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Carrie Yau Tsang Ka-lai. The committee was set up by the Hong Kong government and is chaired by Health Secretary Yeoh Eng-kiong, but it consists of disease experts from around the world. Public health group chairman Sian Griffiths, who is also president of the faculty of public health medicine of Britain's Royal Colleges of Physicians, said their work in the coming week was to listen and learn about the Sars epidemic in Hong Kong, and to make recommendations in the event of future outbreaks of 'emergent' diseases. 'It is very much about listening, learning some lessons and helping our colleagues in Hong Kong,' she said. She said it was not just Hong Kong where lessons should be learned. The international community also stood to benefit from greater understanding of the Sars outbreak. The group's meetings yesterday followed a three-day meeting last week by another panel of experts from the committee, its hospital management and administration group. They were in Hong Kong to review the work of public hospitals in the management and infection control of the disease. Other members of the public health group are: Meirion Evans, Harvey Fineberg, Jeffrey Koplan and Lee Shiu-hung, the former director of health who is now professor of community medicine at the Chinese University. The Sars Expert Committee has been widely criticised for having Dr Yeoh at its head. It was appointed by Tung Chee-hwa to identify lessons to be learnt and make recommendations on improvement measures to the public health system against any possible resurgence of Sars. The committee is expected to conclude its work and submit a report to the chief executive in September. The Hong Kong Doctors' Union yesterday reiterated its call for Mr Tung to set up an independent review committee to facilitate 'a more objective review of the incident'. Union president Henry Yeung Chiu-fat also questioned the 'unacceptable high mortality rate' of Sars patients in Hong Kong, and the use of steroids in treatment. In Hong Kong, 298 died out of 1,755 infected for a 16.9 per cent mortality rate. Singapore's death rate was 15.5 per cent, Canada reported 14.7 per cent, Taiwan had 12.3 per cent and Vietnam's was 7.9 per cent. The mainland reported a 6.5 per cent death rate. Globally, the death rate from Sars is 9.6 per cent, the union said, based on World Health Organisation figures. Twenty-seven people remained in Hong Kong hospitals yesterday, with five in intensive care, according to the Department of Health. The union said the use of steroids 'is almost unknown and is potentially dangerous in infectious diseases'. The antiviral drug Ribavirin 'does not appear to alter the course of Sars'. A third drug used in Hong Kong in combination with steroids is Kaletra, which the union said had 'a lot of side effects'.