Gov’t, WHO Explain SARS At Workshop

Health officials in Siem Reap on Saturday concluded a two-day educational workshop aimed at informing medical personnel about severe acute respiratory syndrome and improving conditions at a regional isolation ward, health officials said Sunday.

World Health Organization and Ministry of Health officials conducted informational workshops for more than 100 health professionals from public and private clinics concerning proper diagnosis and treatment of SARS, said Health Ministry Secretary of State Dr Mam Bun Heng on Saturday.

“I don’t think we will have too much difficulty because we have experience from other countries,” he said concerning health workers’ understanding and preparedness for an outbreak.

Health officials have expressed con­cern about private Chinese health clinics in Siem Reap where travelers from affected areas in Chi­na may receive unrecorded treatment.

The meetings were aimed at integrating all health care professionals into a common alert and response system that would send SARS patients to Angkor Chil­dren’s Hospital’s makeshift isolation ward, said WHO infection control officer Dr Frances Daily.

There is no facility in Cambodia built specifically for isolation purposes, Daily said, so health officials in Siem Reap are installing basic equipment in a separate hospital building dedicated to treating SARS patients.

Five rooms with separate air conditioning units and bathrooms now have makeshift external washrooms where medical personnel can properly disinfect themselves and dispose of infected materials, Daily said.

A mobile X-ray machine has been requested for the building to minimize the contact SARS patients would have with hospital personnel and patients, she said.

Even without any reported SARS cases, health officials are working within a tight budget. The ministry already has spent the $11,000 allotted for SARS and now is considering dedicating $25,000 more to the plan.

But support from international donors will be crucial to Cambodia’s preparedness, Daily said.

“Cambodia doesn’t have a standard that we would like for this sort of an outbreak,” she said, adding that the hospital did not have the funds necessary to raising that standard.

Still, Daily said the preventative measures Cambodia is taking have been worthwhile.

“We cannot say that Cambodia is any worse than the others. At the moment, we can adequately ensure that our staff will be protected,” she said. Of the almost 7,000 reported cases of SARS, health care workers combating the disease comprise many of its victims.

Cambodia’s tourism sector has taken a turn for the worse since SARS crept into the region in late February. The Ministry of Tourism reported last month that the number of visitors to Cambodia dropped by 40 percent during the first week of the outbreak in comparison to last year’s numbers. Tourism Minister Veng Sereyvuth also predicted that thousands of Cambodians likely would lose their jobs as a result of the economic crunch.

The World Tourism Organization said Thursday that the tourism industry in Asia and the Pacific, which grew 8 percent in 2002, will be challenged this year, according to The Associated Press. Organization Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli said in a statement that the industries of unaffected areas, like Cambodia, have suffered almost as much as in infected countries.

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