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Laboratories Under WHO Microscope

The World Health Organization (WHO) is mobilizing more experts to help prevent the recurrence of SARS.

A WHO team of about 10 experts will start investigation and research work on severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) prevention and control in Beijing this week, Henk Bekedam, representative of WHO's Beijing Office, told China Daily in an exclusive interview.


"What the experts are going to do is to look at all the surveillance systems for SARS, especially in some areas we think are at high risk of a recurrence of the virus,'' he said.


High-risk area include laboratories that contain SARS specimens, and regions such as parts of southern China where the virus might occur in wildlife.


Bekedam said laboratories in China should handle the SARS virus very carefully to prevent accidents such as the one in Singapore where a young researcher was infected with SARS virus in August.


What happened in Singapore could happen in China, he said.


The WHO experts will work with Chinese health authorities and experts to strengthen the surveillance systems in such laboratories and other high-risk areas, Bekedam noted.


He said China has developed strengths in some areas, such as treating SARS patients.


"What we want to do now is make China prepare better to prevent SARS from becoming a big health problem if it comes back,'' Bekedam said.


The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Science and Technology are strictly supervising SARS virus laboratories and their research into the disease, said Li Liming, director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.


However, Li admitted there are still some problems with the management of specimens of the SARS virus. Many laboratories hold their own specimens and more needs to be done to coordinate research into SARS to make their work safer and more efficient.


Meanwhile, the WHO headquarters in Geneva issued yesterday a 35-page report summarizing international research on the epidemiology of the SARS outbreak.


Three other news conference will be held in Geneva this week to release an overview of SARS research, of SARS laboratories, and of SARS clinical treatment.


The three conferences will be held in conjunction with a series of SARS meetings being held in Geneva, said Bob Dietz, spokesman for the WHO's Beijing Office.


(China Daily October 22, 2003)

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