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China: Bickering Delayed SARS Response - 2003-06-18


Senior Chinese disease control experts say rivalry and bickering among scientists and government officials delayed China's response to the deadly SARS outbreak and cost lives. China's Center for Disease Control says SARS exposed serious problems in the country's medical system.

Frustrated scientists say arguments over research strategies, debate over the cause of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, and interference by the government all got in the way of fighting SARS in China.

One of China's leading SARS researchers, Bi Shingli of the Center for Disease Control in Beijing says there was too little sharing of information, tissue samples, and ideas because "everybody had their own evidence" and wanted credit for finding the cause of SARS.

Mr. Bi also blames the Health Ministry, saying it wanted to be informed of new developments before the rest of the scientific community, even though the ministry sometimes lacked the expertise to evaluate key information. The World Health Organization acknowledges squabbles among bureaucrats and scientists are all too common around the world and China is no different.

But WHO experts say Beijing can speed the sharing of crucial information by setting up websites and publications and encouraging more openness among scientific peers.

WHO spokesman, Bob Dietz, says China is getting the message. "It [China] caused great harm in the world by having SARS and not catching it initially, not stemming it and allowing it to escape its borders. China's learned from that," says Mr. Dietz. "They are guaranteeing to the international community that they will do everything in their power to stop that from happening again."

Since it first appeared late last year in southern China, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome has spread to 30 countries, infected nearly 8,500 people and killed almost 10 percent of them. A majority of the illnesses and nearly half the deaths are reported here in China.

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