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WHO to Launch Special Anti-SARS Fund - 2003-05-22

The World Health Organization, WHO, says it is starting a special fund to combat SARS, primarily in mainland China and Hong Kong.

World Health Organization officials say they are confident they will be able to raise the money by September from investment banks, media companies and industrial groups.

The head of WHO's Communicable Diseases Program, David Heymann, calls this an exciting new endeavor. He says the Geneva-based World Economic Forum which has close ties with China is taking the lead in contacting business people to contribute to the fund.

"We are not at liberty to announce yet exactly who is going to participate and the amount of money that has come in," said Mr. Heymann. "But, very soon in the next week or so, we will be doing that. But, we can say that the interest is extremely broad and extremely deep and we are very much looking forward to working with business partners on this issue."

Hong Kong still has not managed to get the SARS epidemic under control. But, the World Health Organization says health authorities there are doing a good job in identifying new cases of this fatal disease, in tracing people who have come in contact with SARS carriers and in isolating patients. It says Hong Kong is making good progress and is moving closer toward containing the disease.

China remains the most severely SARS-affected country in the world. But, WHO SARS expert, Jim Kim says he is convinced that the Chinese authorities are taking the epidemic seriously.

He says the Fund which was announced Thursday is intended to get quick money so as to shore up the activities that already are ongoing in China and the business community can mobilize cash very quickly.

"And, we are hoping to reach $100 million by September, just from the business community," said Dr. Kim. "Those funds will be mostly used in China and we want to stress that this is not an expression of concern about China's lack of response. Rather, it is an effort to get the business community to think in a more long term way. What we are talking about is building infrastructure so that SARS or any other infectious diseases of this type will be readily detected and a response will be mobilized, even more quickly than before."

Dr. Kim says he considers $100 million from the business community to be very reasonable, given the economic impact SARS has had. The World Health Organization estimates the SARS epidemic has resulted in losses of more than $30 billion to numerous industries around the world, including the tourist, airline, and services industries.