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Taiwan admits SARS case for treatment
Lawmakers say DOH chief using medical 'double standard'
2003-03-22 / Taiwan News, Staff Reporter / By Darcy Pan

The son of a Vietnam-based U.S. diplomat was admitted to a local hospital early yesterday for treatment of what was suspected to be Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), doctors said.

Taiwan's health authorities came under fire, however, for allowing the boy to be treated in Taiwan after asking Taiwanese businessmen on Wednesday to be treated in their overseas locations rather than returning to Taiwan if quality medical care is available.

The boy, whose name was withheld, was airlifted to Taipei in a special medical plane around 7:30 yesterday morning and transported to National Taiwan University Hospital to receive care in an isolated ward, according to doctors at the hospital.

Chen Tzai-chin (陳再晉), director of the Center for Disease Control under the Department of Health, also confirmed that "the NTUH is now treating the boy."

Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳), head of the department of infectious diseases at NTUH, said yesterday that "medical records from the hospital in Vietnam show the patient has developed pneumonia, but there hasn't been any indication of high fever.

"The boy's temperature does not exceed 38 degrees Celsius. It doesn't fit the symptoms of a typical SARS case as defined by the World Health Organization," Chang said.

According to Lee Ping-ying (李秉穎), the pediatrician at NTUH responsible for the ten-year-old boy's care, the boy had traveled to Sapa, near Vietnam's border with China. He visited Hanoi, where several cases of SARS have been discovered, on March 10, and arrived home in Ho Chi Min City on March 16 when he developed pneumonia.

"We were asked through diplomatic channels whether we could help," Taiwan CDC official Liu Ming-Hsun said yesterday. The WHO had recommended the boy immediately seek medical help overseas, according to Lee.

"Right now, the boy can breathe freely and eat normally," Lee said. "But he is required to be treated in isolation before the diagnosis confirms that his illness is not a SARS case," Lee noted.

Although the case appeared to be a humanitarian undertaking, DOH Director Twu Shiing-jer (涂醒­) was accused by opposition lawmakers yesterday of displaying double standard when dealing with suspected cases of SARS.

On March 19, in response to the outbreak of SARS cases in China, Twu was quoted in the media as saying that if Taiwanese businesspeople fell victim to SARS, it was better to seek medical help in China and not Taiwan.

During an legislative interpellation yesterday, both Kuomintang Legislator Lee Ya-chin (李雅景) and People First Party Legislator Ku Chung-lien (顧崇濂) challenged Twu by asking why a U.S. diplomat's son was allowed to receive treatment here while infected Taiwanese businesspeople were asked to stay in China.

Premier Yu Shyi-kun (游錫堃), standing next to Twu, reassured the legislators, saying that "the government hasn't given anybody preferential treatment. Providing medical help shouldn't be subject to boundaries."

In reaction to lawmakers' criticsm, Twu clarified that "it is for the benefit of the Taiwanese businesspeople and their families that the DOH urged those infected with SARS to seek treatment first before coming back to the island. The DOH's call was made on the grounds that it is not good for patients to travel."

"Reports in the media took my comments out of context," Twu explained. "What I tried to say that day was that Taiwanese businesspeople are welcome to get medical treatment at home if they are infected and they have no difficulty in traveling. There is definitely no double standard here. What the DOH said was completely professional and in accordance with the instructions of the WHO."

Also refuting criticism of preferential treatment, Cabinet Spokesman Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) said later yesterday that "in the case of the American boy, what the government has done is based on humanitarian considerations and a desire to provide medical assistance."

"In addition, there was no risk of spreading the disease," Lin added, "because the boy arrived in a dedicated plane."

Lin further indicated that should any Taiwanese businesspeople suspect they have SARS symptoms, the government will allow them to return home for treatment if they travel on a charter flight.

There are now 306 people sick with the disease, according to the World Health Organization. About half of those are in Hong Kong, with the vast majority of all cases in Asia. There are 13 suspected cases in the United States.

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