The World Health Organization has criticized China for being slow in sharing information on the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome with the rest of the world. But the head of the WHO, who is visiting India, said cooperation with China has improved.

The head of the World Health Organization, Gro Harlem Brundtland, said China should have accepted international help earlier in dealing with the SARS virus that probably first emerged in the country's southern Guangdong province.

"Would it have been better if WHO had been given an opportunity with its experts to enter into Guangdong and be able to help the authorities there? The answer is yes. It would have been helpful, and it should have happened earlier, in my opinion," Ms. Brundtland said. China's Guangdong province and neighboring Hong Kong account for the majority of SARS cases worldwide.

The serious and potentially fatal form of pneumonia was first identified in China late last year. But Beijing first allowed the WHO team to visit last week.

The disease has spread to more than a dozen countries and sparked panic, especially in Asia where most of the cases have occurred.

The WHO team now in Guangdong is searching for clues about how SARS spreads. The team is meeting scientists, visiting hospitals, and reviewing medical records. The disease is spreading in ways health authorities do not fully understand.

Ms. Brundtland said she is satisfied that there is now "good collaboration" between WHO and China, but said she cannot comment on whether China has taken sufficient steps to deal with the crisis.

"We will be working with the experts, and the environment, and the political leadership in Guangdong and in Beijing, both to give advice and to do whatever is possible to help them in identifying the reasons, the cause of the outbreak and therefore understand how we can deal with it," she said. Ms. Brundtland said apparently India is lucky to have escaped the epidemic. The WHO chief was in New Delhi for ceremonies to mark World Health Day, which has been dedicated this year to healthy environments to protect children.