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Containing SARS 1st Priority, says WHO - 2003-04-27

With countries around the world struggling to contain Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, the head of the World Health Organization said efforts aimed at stopping the spread of the disease right now are the most crucial. The infection is blamed for more than 300 deaths and 4,600 probable cases in 26 countries.

As the head of the World Health Organization puts it, time really is of the essence when it comes to trying to keep Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in check. SARS already has killed hundreds and infected thousands.

WHO chief Gro Harlem Brundtland told British television that countries around the globe now have a window of opportunity to act. "We are doing what is prudent and necessary from a public health knowledge base to contain a new disease before it becomes global and constant as an added burden to humanity. We have a chance to do it now if we work together globally across the countries and do what is necessary to contain the outbreak," she said.

Ms. Brundtland said safety measures such as airport checks on tourists and other travelers, and travel warnings placed on affected countries were something of a burden, but they are vital to the efforts to contain the disease.

She also reiterated that it is crucial that SARS not be allowed to spread into less developed countries, where the already overburdened health care systems there would have extreme difficulty coping.

"If the SARS epidemic or you know, the outbreaks reach poor, least developed countries in Africa we have a much bigger problem than as it is now mainly in industrialized, richer countries that have a public health base, have hospitals that are able to cope, although it is a burden on everyone," she said.

The majority of the more than 300 deaths worldwide from the disease have occurred in Hong Kong and mainland China, but Toronto, Canada is the center of the largest outbreak outside of Asia.