Thursday, April 24, 2003

Shhh...SARS Threat To Front-Line Health Workers...Possibly World...Keep It Quiet Though...It'll Kill Tourism

Here is an interesting piece by Peter Cameron, professor of emergency medicine at Prince of Wales Hospital, Hong Kong, in today's Sydney Morning Herald.

I tried to remember the last time influenza had put 250 health care workers into hospital, with 20 per cent of them in an ICU. I tried to remember the last time all the ICU beds in a city had been filled by influenza cases. As far as I was concerned, these "experts" had clearly missed the point... Hong Kong, I believe the authorities were initially very keen to keep the public in the dark. This was followed by an attempt to blame the hospital (and staff) for allowing the disease to spread. Initially, for fear of creating pandemonium, no moves were made to educate the public about preventive measures. We tried, through official channels, to get these messages out; unfortunately, most officials seemed to me to be more concerned with protecting the economy and preventing panic than containing disease. Unfortunately, this response seems to have been the typical one in other jurisdictions as well...

...although the Hong Kong Government has since adopted widespread public health measures, at the time of writing it still maintains that there is no crisis. I do not agree; there is no obvious end in sight. More and more of the public are becoming infected. There is a high likelihood that more health care workers will be struck down. It is distinctly possible that if the numbers of affected patients continue to rise the whole public health system may collapse. The most likely pressure point will be the intensive care setting: with more than 100 cases already requiring intensive care, it is inevitable that untrained staff will have to manage critically ill patients. Also, hospitals will have to triage patients, allocating intensive care beds and technology to those most likely to benefit before those with a lesser or low chance of survival.

This "keenness" to keep the public in the dark does seem disturbing. Though you certainly don't want to spread panic unnecessarily, to restrict vital information regarding health and wellness, if not life and death, for economic reasons borders on the criminal. Every one of these cases should be aggressively investigated by relevant law enforcement authorities. Toronto is angry that they've put on a watch list, and that they'll lose tourist and convention dollars. I hope they're weighing the possible effects and ramnifications of their denials and the spread of this disease too. If they're right, more power to them. But if they're wrong, and ignoring the reality of the situation, and people still come to Toronto and end up spreading this disease far and wide, then Toronto will be share responsibility either civilly or criminally.