TOPICS > Health

China’s Rural Areas Not Ready to Tackle SARS

BY Admin  May 7, 2003 at 5:52 PM EDT

The state-run People’s Daily quoted him as saying, ”The countryside has the channels and potential risk for a SARS outbreak to spread.”

China has reported 4,560 SARS cases and a death toll of 219 to the World Health Organization. The WHO says that the SARS virus has killed 495 people worldwide and infected more than 6,900 others.

Most of China’s SARS cases have been in Beijing and the southern city of Guangzhou with relatively few cases in the countryside. But tens of thousands of people may have left Beijing and other areas hit by SARS since the virus began to spread and may have brought the disease to other regions of the world’s most populous country.

The WHO said Tuesday that it is sending four experts to China’s Hebei province to assess the ability of local healthcare systems to cope with an outbreak. In recent days, the number of SARS cases in Hebei province has risen sharply, according to the WHO. The province surrounds Beijing and is home to some of the capital’s “floating population” of migrant workers.

China’s rural health system is currently not equipped to handle an influx of SARS cases, according to Hu Yonghua, the director of Beijing University’s school of public health.

“We have a lot of doctors, a lot of hospitals — the problem is we don’t have enough hospitals and doctors specializing in this field,” Hu told the BBC Wednesday.

As patients with SARS become seriously ill, they require care from doctors experienced with respiratory ailments.

“If I want to save a kidney, there’s a regimen of medicine and treatment to give the patient, including what to do first, what to do next,” Hu continued.

“For respiratory illnesses, it’s a different regiment… They have to look at the patient’s breathing, lung conditions, and figure out when to use the mechanical respirator. This requires specialist knowledge and a wealth of experience… Now, they’re learning as they are doing it,” he said.

As the SARS situation worsens in China, other countries are getting a better handle on the virus.

Singapore, which has taken some of the toughest measures to control the disease, said on Wednesday it could declare the epidemic under control if it goes 10 more days without a new case.

Twenty-seven people have died from SARS in Singapore out of 204 reported cases. But the number of people in hospital is at a five-week low and only three new cases emerged last week.

The United States has already removed the small city-state from its list of SARS-affected areas to avoid. The advisory remains in effect for mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong, the number of new SARS cases was below 10 for the fourth straight day.

Hong Kong officials say the WHO will consider lifting the warning when new daily infections fall below five for three consecutive days and the number of active cases drops to 60 or less. Hong Kong government figures show 377 active SARS cases.

Meanwhile, a report in the British medical journal The Lancet says the death rate among those infected with SARS is higher than the figures used by the WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Lancet article reported that SARS killed 55 percent of infected patients over 60. In younger patients, the death rate could be as low as 6.8 percent, the study found. Overall, 20 percent of those with the disease will die, the researchers reported. The study looked at patients who were hospitalized in Hong Kong.

The CDC puts the worldwide death rate at 6.6 percent. The WHO estimates that overall, 14 to 15 percent of SARS patients die, with 50 percent of patients aged 65 years and older succumbing to the disease.