SARS - will new WHO Chief investigate "Patient Zero"?
Newly elected WHO Chief Jong-Wook Lee said that "SARS is the first new disease threat of the 21st century, but it will not be the last," in his acceptance speech to the Un Assembly, reports the Chinese People's Daily.
According to the New York Times, because SARS also "revealed weaknesses in global surveillance" of infectious diseases, the WHO is now collaborating with its 192 member countries to improve disease monitoring, Dr. Lee said, and the agency intends to work with them to revise the international regulations to improve disease control.
The question remains open however, whether Jong-Wook Lee will be able to shed light on the story of "patient zero", the first person to die of the disease. According to an article first published in the Italian daily paper La Repubblica, which can be found here in English, patient zero was none other than Professor Liu Janlun, a renowned microbiologist.
Liu Janlun, said Dr. Sun Hong-Cheow, director of the Research Center for epidemiologic research of Guangzhou province, was desperately seeking to find a vaccine against the H5N1 virus, which in recurring bouts infects chicken, turkeys and ducks in China, leading to mass slaughter to contain the virus. Sun Hong-Cheow is quoted as saying at the time that he was "extremely preoccupied" with the research of Prof. Liu. "Already two months ago, I had sent an urgent memo to WHO headquarters. - I had to warn them about the dangers of certain viruses of animal origin. I had also pointed out the potential risk involved in carrying out experiments like the ones done by Professor Liu and others. They have ignored everything I told them."
While WHO was quick to quarantene the virus, it does not seem that the implications of Professor Liu's research, which ultimately led to his death, and which were apparently known to WHO headquarters two months before the outbreak of SARS, have been given sufficient attention.
posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Monday July 21 2003
updated on Wednesday December 8 2010
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