Health Officials Fear SARS Spread in Third World; Crowded Developing Countries Are Said to Lack Resources to Contain an Epidemic

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 11, 2003 | Go to article overview

Health Officials Fear SARS Spread in Third World; Crowded Developing Countries Are Said to Lack Resources to Contain an Epidemic


Byline: Amy Fagan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

As public health specialists work to contain the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China, concern is growing that the illness could spread to crowded developing countries, such as those in Africa, with potentially devastating effects.

"This illness getting into a heavily populated developing country is a concern," said Dick Thompson, spokesman for the World Health Organization. "They don't have the resources that are needed to control the disease."

"It is a real concern to people in the field," added Dr. Ruth Berkelman, director of the Center for Public Health at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health.SARS has infected more than 7,000 people and claimed more than 500 lives worldwide, according to WHO. In China, SARS cases continue to rise.

Officials there say five new fatalities yesterday took the death toll to 235. Almost 5,000 cases have been reported in that country so far.

Other affected areas appear to be getting the illness under control. Vietnam was declared free of the disease and cases are "trending downwards" in Canada and Singapore, Mr. Thompson said.

But, he said, "all it takes is one case," for the disease to flare up in an area and spread.

Health specialists say countries in Africa, South America and other places may not have the money, equipment or public health infrastructures in place to deal with a potential SARS outbreak. And many of the world's most densely-populated cities - Mexico City; Lagos, Nigeria; and Jakarta, Indonesia - are in developing countries, they note.

Dr. Berkelman said poor sanitation and inadequate housing could lead to a quick spread of the illness. She also said it is not clear whether there are enough trained health care workers who could recognize, test, diagnose and report a potential SARS case.

And she questioned whether there are enough gowns, gloves and masks to maintain the quarantine of a SARS outbreak.

In addition, a large number of people are infected with HIV in Africa.

It is not yet known if SARS is more deadly for people with HIV, but Dr. …

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