The World Health Organization has removed the United States and Britain from the list of countries affected by the pneumonia-like disease SARS.
The World Health Organization says the removal of the United States, Britain, and Vietnam from the list of SARS-affected countries, coupled with the lifting of the travel advisory on Toronto, Canada, are positive signs, but WHO officials say these countries must remain on the alert against the disease.
The head of the health agency's communicable disease program, David Heymann, says these countries have carried out a massive effort to contain the outbreak. The challenge for them now is to defend against further import of the disease.
"We believe they can. We believe that industrialized countries especially have developed strong systems, that they began developing after the anthrax incidents, which occurred in the U.S. and are continuing," he said. "What we are worried about is importations into developing countries, which might not have the strong systems they need to detect and to contain this disease."
Dr. Heymann warns that if SARS were to strike in a massive way in the developing world, it would have a devastating impact. He says that is one of the reasons countries must work as hard as possible to stop SARS.
Dr. Heymann also expressed concern about reports of relapses of the disease in Hong Kong. He says the World Health Organization cannot comment on these reports, until it talks with officials in Hong Kong early next week. Meanwhile, he says, the World Health Organization is developing a plan with China to try to halt the spread of the disease on the Chinese mainland.
"We know already that the program will contain a small amount of necessary research to better understand the disease and a large amount of funding for the training of health workers and of infection control procedures and detection procedures within the country," he explains.
Of the more than 5,900 reported cases of SARS worldwide, over half have been in China. Four-hundred-eighteen people have died of the disease, and 350 of the deaths have been in Hong Kong or mainland China.