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WHO Official Challenges China's Handling of Bird Flu
posted by admin on 27/03/06

A top World Health Organization official in Beijing questioned China's practice of reporting only confirmed cases of bird flu in humans, suggesting that greater transparency about cases the government is investigating might help alleviate public anxiety about the virus.
 
The call came shortly before the country's official Xinhua news agency reported Friday that the death from pneumonia of a 29-year-old migrant worker in Shanghai on Tuesday was probably caused by bird flu.
 
Late last night, the Shanghai municipal government reported that bird flu was a possible cause of the death, that it had invited experts from the Ministry of Health to Shanghai to investigate and that a number of precautionary measures, including epidemic investigation in different parts of the city, were under way.
 
If confirmed, it would be the financial capital's first case of the disease. The WHO began to investigate after hearing rumors of the death.
 
The Chinese Ministry of Health has often waited until laboratory tests definitively show that bird flu was the cause of an illness before making any mention of it in its investigation, notifying the WHO of the case only shortly before it makes a public announcement.
 
In addition, the government had requested that newspapers in the area not publish articles about the Shanghai case until they receive an official statement, a local newspaper editor said on Thursday. Such directives aren't uncommon in China.
 
Julie Hall, the WHO's top communicable-diseases expert in Beijing, observed that Thailand has begun reporting hundreds of cases that are either under investigation, suspected, probable or confirmed.
 
"I imagine that in the beginning people were concerned that that would cause a degree of public concern," Dr. Hall said, "but they chose to be very open about this."
When severe acute respiratory syndrome hit the region in early 2003, the Chinese government initially covered it up. Given the rumors that can spread about a deadly disease such as bird flu, the more information the government provides, the less anxiety there will be, Dr. Hall said.
 
Meanwhile, China and the American Red Cross launched a campaign Thursday to blanket the country with millions of posters to educate the public on ways to avoid bird flu, the Associated Press reported.
 
The campaign was announced at the start of a two-day bird-flu conference in Beijing attended by officials of China's Health Ministry, the WHO, the United Nations' children's agency Unicef and the U.S. Embassy. Officials from Vietnam's Red Cross, South Korea and the Netherlands also attended.

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