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US Calls for China to Be More Open on SARS Statistics - 2003-10-19

The United States is asking China to be more open in its reporting of disease figures, including those on AIDS and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

China is heading into winter, and as temperatures are dropping fears are rising about a possible re-emergence of SARS, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, on a visit to Beijing, met with Chinese health officials and pledged continuing U.S. support for disease control.

Mr. Thompson said he talked to Chinese officials about immediately disclosing any new outbreak of SARS, which this year killed more than 900 people worldwide - most of them in China. The Chinese government was sharply criticized by the international community for failing to report the emergence of the disease and then trying to cover up news of its spread.

Secretary Thompson said he urged Chinese officials to collaborate with the United States and the world community if there are any new outbreaks.

"We need to do this because it is impossible anymore in this modern age to keep things under cover. It is much better to get them out in the open, discuss them and if we don't know the answer, be forthright about it and say it. At least by doing that, I think we can allay a lot of concern, and give out as much information as we get in order to alleviate the anxieties that a lot of people had over SARS and are continuing to have over HIV/AIDS," Mr. Thompson said.

Mr. Thompson on Sunday announced that the U.S. government is creating a permanent post for a health official at the American Embassy in Beijing for coordination and communication on health issues.

Washington has already pledged nearly $15 million to help China manage its AIDS and HIV problem. Secretary Thompson said China is due to receive a two-year grant of $21 million from the international public-private partnership, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

U.S. officials say they hope the infusion of foreign aid will give China an incentive to be more transparent in the way it reports disease figures.