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WHO Expert Examines China's SARS Outbreak - 2003-06-11

A leading expert from the World Health Organization is in Beijing, studying China's outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The U.N. health agency wants to know more about the rapid drop in cases seen in China.

David Heymann, an infectious disease expert, says the World Health Organization wants to clear up questions about China's management of SARS.

Dr. Heymann on Wednesday described the purpose of his trip.

"To congratulate the government on the excellent work that they've done and to get some answers to a few question that we have," he said.

Two other WHO officials, with expertise in tracking new diseases, are accompanying Dr. Heymann, who is based in Geneva.

They will tackle issues such as tracing how the disease is transmitted and joint research initiatives between China and the U.N. agency.

China, where SARS is believed to have originated, has 5,300 cases, roughly 60 percent of the world's total. At least 343 people have died from SARS in China.

Less than two months ago, Beijing was reporting hundreds of new cases each day, and the outbreak appeared to be spinning out of control.

But the number of new infections reported dwindled rapidly after the government enacted strict quarantines and travel restrictions.

In the past two weeks, China has reported fewer than 10 new cases each day. Some WHO officials have expressed concern that the numbers might be faulty, and that a large outbreak could not have diminished so quickly.

However, WHO experts who have been in China since April, say they have no reason to fault the data.

The U.N. agency's assessment of the outbreak is critical to China, which is eager to see WHO end its warning against travel to much of the country.