Developed World Warned to Avoid Complacency over SARS


A warning to developed countries not to allow their public health systems to be run down in the face of a possible new epidemic of SARS was delivered today (Wednesday) by the president of the World Medical Association, Dr James Appleyard.

Speaking at an international conference in Taiwan on Influenza and the Resurgence of SARS, Dr Appleyard said there was no room for complacency or denial.

"A key defence against SARS is a robust public health system worldwide and an "alert" system informing primary care physicians. Any weak link in the chain may expose many to disaster. No country should be excluded from the WHO and the lessons learned. Complacency has crept in over several years in many "developed" countries, including the UK, where public health systems have been allowed to run down. It is vital that in this "pause" between the possible next wave of SARS that robust public health systems are put into place and tested".

Dr Appleyard said that SARS arrived to an unsuspecting world nearly a year ago, as pestilence had done over centuries before.

"With no specific treatment available, centuries-old control measures of isolation, quarantine, contact tracing, containment and follow up were needed to control the epidemic. Many lessons are being learned. In the face of a potential global disaster, the combined resourcefulness of humans and human resources set aside commercial competition and with remarkable speed identified the causative agent, its genetic sequence and likely mode of transmission."

Dr Appleyard paid tribute to the late Dr Carlo Urbani, the World Health Organisation specialist who died of SARS earlier this year after treating patients during the epidemic.

"I pay tribute to his selfless devotion to humanity, his energy and key work in the identification and containment of the SARS outbreak, together with his team and to all the physicians and health professionals who in the course of their duties to their patients put themselves at grave risk and on occasions were themselves inadvertent carriers of the disease."

Dr Appleyard said that a World Medical Association working group was now gathering information from the WMA's 80 national medical associations to develop a public health risk alert. The group would set out recommendations on communication, preventative measures for the profession and patients, best practices in terms of diagnostic and therapeutic methods and evidence based travel advice to the public.

The WMA was also urgently pressing the WHO to enhance its emergency response protocol to provide for the early involvement of the medical community globally, including immediate talks on how to communicate reliable information to front line workers. This should include the provision of reliable products and materials to safeguard the health of front line staff and their patients.