Brazzaville, 2 May 2003 -- The World Health Organization (WHO) Friday welcomed the call by African health ministers for "appropriate responses" to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and pledged continued support to African countries, many of which have already taken measures to detect and curb the spread of the disease.
At their 26-30 April meeting in Tripoli, Libya, the first under the auspices of the African Union, the ministers had called for more intensive advocacy on SARS, the mobilization and deployment of resources to keep the disease at bay, and collective action through regional cooperation because failure by one country to control SARS could put the entire continent at risk.
Speaking in Brazzaville on the outcome of the Tripoli meeting, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Ebrahim Samba, welcomed the stand taken by the ministers, saying that WHO would continue to provide the necessary support to Member States to detect and contain SARS.
A Round Table with the theme "Investing in Health for Africa's socio-economic development" was organized as part of the five-day meeting which agreed that the disease would be "a major problem for African countries" if it should spread to the continent which has so far recorded only one probable case (in South Africa).
The ministers also noted that if SARS were to take hold in Africa, it would overstretch already over-burdened health systems; potentially cause panic and social unrest; divert resources and attention away from other health and development programmes, and aggravate existing crises facing many countries such as chronic poverty, hunger, HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases.
Delegates to the meeting stressed that awareness-creation, rapid information dissemination and exchange, quarantine facilities at airports as well as land and sea transit points were key to detecting and preventing the disease. Training of health personnel to deal with cases at designated hospitals and other health facilities is also key, as is free medical assistance to affected people.
"WHO is determined to track down every possible case of SARS. Openness and transparency are obvious prerequisites to achieving this goal, and the openly expressed concern of the African health ministers in Tripoli demonstrates their clear understanding of this priority", Dr Samba said.
According to the latest tally from WHO, the flu-like disease has infected more than 5,865 people and killed 391 in 27 countries.
For detailed and the most current information on SARS, please visit http://www.who.int/csr/sars/en
The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) site maintained by the Department of Communicable Diseases Surveillance and Response (CSR) at the World Health Organization.
Contacts at the WHO Regional Office for Africa:
Dr Paul Lusamba-Dikassa
Regional Adviser for Communicable Diseases Surveillance and Response
( lusambap [at] whoafr.org )
Mr. Samuel T. Ajibola, Public Information and Communication Unit
ajibolas [at] afro.who.int
Tel: + 47 241 39378
Fax: + 47 241 39513