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WHO Urges Safety Measures Against SARS - 2003-09-12

The World Health Organization is urging medical laboratories to review safety measures because of fears a Singapore man might have caught SARS at a laboratory where he works.

The United Nations' health agency is making an urgent call for better safety measures at laboratories handling the SARS virus.

The call, made at the end of a five-day World Health Organization conference in Manila, comes after a Singapore laboratory worker contracted Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

While it is not yet clear how he caught SARS, suspicion has fallen on the facilities where he worked and a possible lapse in lab safety measures.

Countries attending the WHO conference also called for a review of rules on transporting samples of live SARS virus on commercial airlines.

Although delegates at the regional conference also discussed public health issues such as tuberculosis and AIDS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome dominated the meeting.

Globally, SARS infected about 8,500 people and killed more than 900, after it emerged in southern China late last year. Most of the cases were reported in Asia.

Research laboratories in Hong Kong, one of the cities hit hardest by SARS, came under scrutiny Friday, after one university said its research facilities, where SARS is studied, does not meet international standards.

Another university in the city says it hopes to build new faculties to culture live SARS virus.

Professor K.Y. Yeun of Hong Kong University says his laboratory needs funding to build a facility to study the effect of the virus when injected into animals.

The governing body for WHO's Western Pacific region says the international coordination seen during the SARS crisis should be replicated to fight other infectious diseases such as AIDS and tuberculosis.

Mongolia, which has one of the highest tuberculosis infection rates in the region, says it achieved its goal of controlling infections over the past year.

Several countries, including Papua New Guinea and the Marshall Islands, said they are worried about patients who are resistant to many tuberculosis drugs.