Wednesday, 19  March 2003  
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Health Ministry on alert to avert disease

by Bharatha Malawaraarachchi

Health Workers were put on alert yesterday although no cases of the newly formed pneumonia has been reported in Sri Lanka up to date.

This highly contagious pneumonia which has broken out in parts of Asia and several other foreign countries is feared to have caused nine deaths and over 450 infected so far worldwide.

At a special meeting held at the Health Ministry on Monday, Health Secretary Dr. Reggie Perera instructed officials involved in key sections controlling communicable and respiratory diseases to be on alert and take appropriate measures to avert any outbreak of this disease in Sri Lanka.

Agency reports said the disease named by the World Health Organization (WHO) as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) has left four people dead in Asia and Canada and infected over 150 others, mostly medical workers, in the past week.

However, a Ministry spokesman said, the Ministry wants to keep all sections and officials ready to face any outbreak of the disease. "Instructions have been given to officials at entry points such as airports and ports to be alert on this."

The Ministry has also focused attention towards the influx of displaced persons from India to the Jaffna peninsula.

"Officials were also instructed to be prepared with necessary facilities for laboratory testing and ensure proper health-care to patients, if found in due course," spokesman added.

Meanwhile, a report from Singapore said experts are trying to find out whether these cases are connected to an outbreak last month in southern China's Guangdong province near Hong Kong which left five people dead out of 305 cases reported.

The disease, described as "atypical pneumonia" as it does not show the classic signs, is apparently being spread by air travellers from Asia, prompting the WHO to warn of a "worldwide health threat."

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