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WHO: China Using 'Solid Means' to Assess SARS Outbreak - 2003-05-28

The World Health Organization says it is now convinced China is using accurate reporting methods on the number of cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The U.N. agency says it will use new powers to help stem the spread of future disease outbreaks.

The World Health Organization says after serious initial problems, China is now using solid means to assess the nation's Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak.

Bob Dietz, a WHO representative in Beijing, told VOA Wednesday that international experts returning from China's poorer rural areas believe the disease has been effectively checked and that is why China is reporting lower numbers of new cases. "In the provinces, where we've had inspection teams when they go jointly with the Chinese Ministry of Health, we're pretty sure that the figures we're seeing are accurate and being reported in good faith," he said. "We think the methods that China has put in place are strong. We find a commitment and mobilization that goes down to a very grass roots level."

China, with the world's most serious outbreak of 5,322 cases, adopted a policy of transparent reporting in April, as the outbreak spread rapidly from the southern region to 26 provinces and the capital.

At the outbreak's peak, China saw hundreds of new SARS cases each day. Yet after quarantines were enacted, the number of new transmissions fell dramatically, prompting fresh concerns China was underreporting cases.

China reported only four new cases on Wednesday, one of the lowest daily figures since the outbreak's peak.

SARS is believed to have first appeared in China in November, but the country kept silent for months. When it showed up in Hong Kong in March, China still took weeks to fully cooperate with international health officials on stemming the infection rate and allow the WHO to send teams into the country.

Meanwhile, the World Health Assembly on Tuesday, prompted by lessons from SARS, adopted new measures to better respond to disease outbreaks. Peter Cordingley, the WHO's Asia Pacific spokesman, says the agency will now have more authority if it suspects a government is hiding crucial data on a disease outbreak. "WHO has been given a lot more power to intervene earlier on in cases of outbreaks," said Peter Cordingley. "The problem with SARS and the reason it got into Chinese society and then spread internationally is that basically our hands were tied. We couldn't go in until we were invited in. We don't now have the power to interfere, but we do have the power to issue warnings without having first to consult with the government and be invited."

Worldwide, SARS has afflicted some 8,200 people, of whom more than 700 have died.