Finishing off the war

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Finishing off the war

The rapid spread of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is poised to subside soon. Medical experts predict proliferation will enter a lull unless a great number of new patients are diagnosed by the weekend. However, no one knows what will happen given the nasty unpredictability of infectious diseases. We must not rule out the possibility of another round of infections down the road.

Public health authorities must keep every movement of MERS in check because a latent virus can trigger massive confusion and crisis in our society. Just think of the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, which was raging out of control in the summer of 2009 and defying conventional wisdom that the virus is inactive during the hot and humid season. Therefore, the government and medical sector must stay on alert until the battle is totally over and victory of any sort is claimed.

Medical circles must share information on how a few hospitals have effectively coped with the potentially fatal virus and minimized apparent damage to their workings. An exemplary case can be found in Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital. Patient No. 105, 63, explained his symptoms to the hospital before going there and wore a mask on his way to the hospital. Then, doctors wearing protective gear diagnosed him with MERS in a separate examination room before transferring him to another specially equipped room at the hospital. As a result, no outsiders came in contact with the virus carrier.

In total contrast, Seoul Medical Center, the largest public hospital in Korea, caused an uproar after senior doctors posted an emailed guideline urging their colleagues not to treat MERS patients on its intranet. Seoul Medical Center is run by the city. In times of crisis, hospitals must do their best to fulfil their public responsibilities.

The Seoul city government’s decision on Monday to disclose personal information about 150 people who were ordered into self-imposed quarantine at home, for 11 hours in fear of further infection on its home page, deserves strong criticism. That act contradicts mayor Park Won-soon’s pledge to tightly manage the sensitive information of MERS patients and suspected cases put into quarantine. And it is obviously a brazen violation of those unfortunate and frightened people’s privacy.

People in the medical profession are nearly exhausted. If the central government deploys military medical staff in the war with the virus, it must do its best to raise their efficiency. The government must roll up its sleeves to completely finish the battle, and as always, the devil is in the details.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 11, Page 30

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