From: Anita Chang, Associated Press
Published July 6, 2007 12:00 AM

China Announces New Plan for Combating Infectious Diseases Outbreaks

BEIJING -- China, criticized for its secretive response in fighting SARS, plans to combat the spread of infectious diseases with better prevention efforts and research, according to a Ministry of Health plan.

The country faced strong international criticism over the way it initially handled its outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in 2003, and more recently for delays in reporting bird flu cases. China has since made a greater show of transparency in cooperating on investigating emerging diseases.

The plan, dated June 20 but posted on the Ministry of Health Web site late Thursday, said factors such as rural-urban migration, pollution and globalization threatened public health, while "the situation of emerging infectious diseases is very grim."

"Knowledge ... is limited, and disease control and treatment is very expensive, so prevention is key," the plan said.

The ministry's plan, which did not provide specifics, called for better training and health education, and the creation of a disease prevention and monitoring system on national, provincial and city levels.

It also called for more scientific research on diseases, particularly SARS and bird flu, and said a special fund would finance the projects.

China will also improve communication and coordination between domestic agencies such as the health and agriculture ministries, as well as with other countries and the World Health Organization, the plan said.

WHO welcomed the publication of the strategy and was in the process of examining it, said Joanna Brent, a spokeswoman for organization's Beijing office.

The SARS virus was first reported in Guangdong in November 2002 and killed 774 people worldwide before subsiding in July 2003. China's reluctance to release timely information about the virus' emergence was criticized by health experts as contributing to the disease's spread.

Beijing has vowed an aggressive fight against the H5N1 strain of bird flu, which has infected nearly 300 people worldwide, killing more than half of them. Experts have warned that if poultry outbreaks are not controlled, the virus may mutate into a form more easily passed between people, potentially resulting in millions of deaths.

Source: Associated Press

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