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Joint mission on SARS animal reservoir and necessary next steps

Representative Office in China
21 August 2003

A joint team of specialists from the Chinese government, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in China to investigate the animal reservoir of the SARS coronavirus, has issued a series of recommendations and actions necessary not only to identify the disease’s animal reservoir, but to contain any future outbreaks.

“We did not set out this time to find the animal reservoir for SARS, but to methodically piece together the jigsaw puzzle of this disease,” says WHO’s Dr Pierre Formenty, a Zoonotic Disease specialist and joint leader of the mission. “The fight against SARS is not over. Finding its origin will most likely take years,” says Dr Formenty, “Right now, the need for information is of such urgency that even limited information will be helpful in taking the right control measures. Because SARS is a global threat, international collaboration is essential if we are to detect and rapidly contain any new outbreaks.”

Among the measures recommended by the joint team of specialists include the strengthening of regulations in the farming, trading and consumption of wildlife. More serological monitoring of the SARS coronavirus are needed both in animals and humans, as well as continued in-depth human studies of SARS index cases. Determining how SARS first breached the species barrier is crucial to controlling it.

While it is still unknown whether SARS will return, WHO is continuing to work closely with the Chinese government to design and implement a strategy using hospitals as early detection centers of SARS. WHO is also collaborating with the Chinese Ministry of Health to strengthen infection control in health care settings. A series of training seminars on SARS infection control procedures for health care workers is scheduled for next month in Beijing and Changsha.

Following a meeting today with senior officials from the Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Forestry, in which the Chinese government recognized the need for increased research co-ordination, WHO is optimistic about future prospects for collaboration.

“Whether or not SARS returns, China must have a strong surveillance network already in place,” says Dr Henk Bekedam, WHO’s China Representative. “China has a unique opportunity to contribute to the international understanding of this disease. Investing now in this safety net may be the key to successfully combating SARS.”

For further information, please contact: Ms Maria Cheng, Press Officer, WHO, Beijing, Tel. (86) 1380 131 7729

Mr Peter Cordingley, Press Officer, WHO, Manilak, Tel. (63-2) 852 9992