An insufficient control systemOur public health authorities’ ongoing fight with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) shows how unstable our disease control system is. Despite a full-fledged battle by the central and local governments, the system is still full of holes when it comes to sharing related information, overseeing infected hospitals and tracking and quarantining people suspected of suffering from MERS. A case in point is Patient No. 76 who went to a long-term care hospital and two university hospitals without being identified for quarantine even after being diagnosed with MERS at Samsung Seoul Hospital.
The general hospital excluded him from quarantine groups only because his bed was distant from Patient No. 14, a carrier of the supervirus. But the problem is a critical lack of shared information between the Center for Disease Control and hospitals nationwide. Konkuk University Hospital was not even aware of Patient No. 76’s visit to Samsung Hospital until he tested positive for the illness.
The government does not seem to share essential information quickly, even after releasing a detailed list of 24 hospitals at which MERS infections occurred, on Sunday. Even though Patient No. 76’s visits to the three hospitals were already reported by the media that afternoon, health authorities made public the list of hospitals that treated MERS infections the next morning.
Despite local governments pledging to monitor quarantined groups on a one-on-one basis, some individuals embarked on trips home and abroad, as seen in a case involving a woman in her late 50s who went to Ulleung Island on the East Sea aboard a 300-passenger boat, and another involving a doctor who departed for the Philippines with his wife for a six-day tour even after being diagnosed.
Drugstores are also a blind spot for the quarantine system, even though pharmacists are exposed to the danger of infection on a daily basis as they have to deal with patients who have MERS prescriptions. Minister of Health and Welfare Moon Hyung-pyo admitted to the malfunctioning of the quarantine system.
The president also is not demonstrating her leadership. She entrusted an emergency meeting to acting Prime Minister Choi Kyung-hwan when she should have presided over the meeting to establish an effective control tower in an unprecedented fight with the disease. All the zig-zagging has earned Korea dishonor as the country with the second-largest population of MERS patients around the globe. If the government cannot win the war, it has crossed the point of no return.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 9, Page 30