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China Defends SARS Statistics - 2003-06-04

A high-ranking Chinese health official says there is no reason to doubt China's figures on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, despite questions raised Tuesday by the World Health Organization.

China has been accused of downplaying the extent of its Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak, but now Chinese health officials say they are eager to work with the world medical community and not against it.

A senior official with the Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control was responding to a World Health Organization spokesperson, who expressed concern over the accuracy of China's rapid drop in SARS the number of reported cases.

He Xiong, the center's deputy director, says China's statistics are reliable and based on solid research.

The WHO spokesperson, Iain Simpson, says the health organization does not want to take any chances. "It may simply be that there has been a dramatic drop-off in SARS cases," he admitted. "But clearly because of the way that SARS emerged in China, China has a credibility problem on SARS. We are working with them to try and better understand it."

Speaking in Beijing on the sidelines of a regional conference on the outbreak, Mr. He said any numbers on the incidence of SARS are problematic, since the disease is difficult to define.

"For any of the professionals, it is really difficult for them to make a really sensitive, and also at the same time, specific definition without the complete knowledge of the pathogen. It is really difficult for them, not only for WHO, but for anybody," explained the Chinese health official.

But he added that China is working closely with the WHO and does not want to end up in an argument with the organization. "Actually, we are cooperating with experts invited by WHO to do the same thing now: to answer the question, not really criticize WHO," said Mr. He.

The Chinese government announced no new cases or deaths since Tuesday.

Hong Kong, meanwhile, saw a SARS controversy of its own emerge, as a prominent private hospital in the territory fired its chief executive amid allegations that it failed to report an outbreak of the virus.

The Hong Kong Baptist Hospital took out newspaper advertisements announcing it had dismissed its chief, Tsang Chin-wah, the previous week. It also apologized for not having informed some of its patients about the outbreak of unexplained fevers in the hospital.

Hong Kong Health Director Margaret Chan had warned the hospital earlier against failing to accurately report all SARS cases at the facility. At least 10 patients and medical staff are believed to have contracted SARS at the hospital.