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Delay Blamed on Lack of Communication
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A lack of communication between researchers and officials has been blamed for the two-year delay in confirming the Chinese mainland's first death from bird flu.

Speaking at a press conference in Beijing yesterday Vice-Minister of Health Jiang Zuojun, explained that the death of a 24-year-old man in Beijing in November 2003 came as the city was gripped by an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

"This case had similar symptoms to SARS, but clinical tests based on SARS standards determined it was not a SARS case," he said.

As it was a sudden and new infectious disease, there were not yet diagnosis standards in place, so researchers started to study the case, said Jiang.

The research took time, as researchers conducted DNA sequencing tests, as well as epidemiological and genetics studies, he said.

On June 22 this year, eight Chinese scientists published a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine, claiming that the bird flu virus had been isolated in the man's body.

The case was confirmed by the Ministry of Health on Tuesday, putting the mainland's first human infection of H5N1 bird flu two years earlier than previously thought.

Jiang said that in 2003 scientific institutions were not legally required to report infectious diseases, and bird flu was not a disease that had to be reported by law until after 2004, when the law on prevention and treatment of infectious diseases was revised.

"The case has exposed that there was a problem in our scientific research institutions," said Jiang. "In the future they should improve communication and contact with disease prevention organizations."

Also at yesterday's conference, Jiang said China's urban community health service would get a shot in the arm in the years ahead, as the government has promised subsidies and incentives for doctors who work at service centres.

The government plans to build one health service centre for every community of between 30,000 and 100,000 residents.

Providing health services in Chinese cities has proved difficult and expensive, partly because many residents go to hospital for minor illnesses and chronic diseases, instead of using community services because they doubt local doctors are adequately qualified or the equipment up to scratch.

In light of the situation, Jiang said priority will be put on training general doctors doctors who are not specialists but treat all illnesses and on attracting more medical professionals to work for communities through pay and welfare incentives.

(China Daily August 11, 2006)

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