Combatting The Scourge Of SARS
Posted: Tuesday, April 22, 2003
L'Express (Port Louis)
by Ahmad Macky
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a respiratory illness that has recently been reported in Asia, North America and Europe. According to Medical Scientists, the illness usually begins with a high fever. This fever is sometimes associated with chills or other symptoms, including headache, general feeling of discomfort and body aches. Some people also experience mild respiratory symptoms at the outset.
This outbreak came like a bolt from the blue, as there is no sign and indication that it would go out in the same fashion. Such an outbreak has sprung on an unsuspecting world, claiming hundreds of precious lives in a short period. From Australia to Brazil to Sweden, the deadly SARS has swept across the globe, targeting rich and poor nations alike. Apart from the Aids epidemic, no other disease has spread around the world in so brief a period of time.
This viral disease similar to pneumonia, first appeared last November in China and began to spread internationally through travellers early this year. The disease, which is fatal in about 4% of cases and has no known cure, has killed more than 200 people and infected 3,600 people worldwide. In Hong Kong itself, the latest deaths took the toll to a world-leading 81. It has now 1 358 cases of SARS, almost as many as on the Chinese main land where the deadly virus first appeared in the Southern province of Guangdong. Doctors still do not have a specific test for SARS, but laboratories around the world are close to developing one.
The SARS outbreak proves very clearly that the world is still susceptible to new diseases notwithstanding the vast advances in medical science and health technology. Ironically, another modern phenomenon - air travel - has been cited as the main culprit for the rapid spread of affliction. Air transport has shrunk the world. An infected person can travel from his country to another in a matter of hours. No one anywhere is really safe.
Mauritius can count itself among the lucky countries, which have not reported SARS cases so far. Constant precautions are being taken by the Ministry of Health to prevent such a deadly disease in our island.
However, given the nature of the illness and its method of transmission, we should not scale down our defenses. Authorities should heighten surveillance at all entry points and especially screen passengers from highly affected countries. If a reliable SARS test becomes available soon, health authorities should get it down without delay.
Hospitals, public and private, should be geared fully to meet any contingency. The media should be used extensively to disseminate information on SARS, as thousands of Mauritians travel abroad daily.
All these should be implemented as soon as possible, because the cost of complacency could be astronomical. We too, like some of these countries that have reported SARS cases, depend heavily on tourism and labour migration. Any negative effect on these vital segments of the economy could indeed be very unhealthy for our country.
All is not lost, however. The world is fighting back. Health authorities around the world have joined hands to combat this scourge. The most encouraging news so far is that scientists in Singapore, US and Canada, with the backing of the World Health Organization, have broken the genetic code of the SARS virus, raising hopes of developing a proper diagnostic test, a vaccine and a cure.
A cure may not be unattainable, as Man has tamed a number of previously deadly diseases and even eradicated some altogether. Smallpox is a good example. Vaccines and effective medicines are available for many other serious diseases. Of course, there is no guarantee that a cure may eventually be available for SARS - AIDS and cancer cannot still be cured completely and permanently after decades of medical research.
While the world literally holds its breath for an effective cure, the pictures streaming across our TV screens of men, women and children wearing masks to evade an invisible enemy remind me once again how vulnerable our society is ! Man is powerful, but Nature is supreme.
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