China: Painful prognosis

"China: Painful prognosis" Continued...

Issue: "Troops hunt for weapons," June 14, 2003

World Health Organization travel advisories for Hong Kong mean tourism is at an all-time low. That's bad news not only for hotels, restaurants, and retailers but also for Hong KongÐbased corporate interests that rely on international business travelers. For some, the economic ripple from SARS is only beginning. Cathay Pacific Airways informed its employees last month that they must take one week unpaid leave each month. "The confidence of the local people, as well as potential tourists, needs to be built up," said longtime resident Bonnie Buckner.

Church workers face their own cutbacks. Many churches suspended gatherings and trips across the border to the Chinese mainland. OMF International, like many mission agencies, called off recruiting short-term mission teams from the United States and canceled summer camps where they were to teach. Despite declining numbers of SARS cases, it will take time to reignite routines.

Testimonies, however, remain vigorous. Over 600 people attended a memorial service for Mr. Chee at Ling Liang Church May 31. Half wore face masks. Mr. Chee received a posthumous doctorate in theology, having completed the defense of his thesis just prior to his illness. Hong Kong church leaders, in addition to the family, gave testimonies of Mr. Chee's faith and his effect on Asian missions. "He was loved around the world as he had a heart for missions," said Mrs. Buckner.

In the aftermath of the virus's grip on the city, residents have discovered new heroes: health workers who willingly treat SARS patients, knowing they too could be infected. The city's first public hospital doctor to die of SARS, Joanna Tse, 35, received a state burial at Gallant Garden, a cemetery reserved for those who die in service to the public. She was the first woman buried there, and Hong Kong's highest official, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, attended her memorial service.

Unlocking the secrets to what causes SARS remains difficult. Hong Kong researchers theorize it may have begun in animals. Last month they found evidence of the SARS virus in three types of small mammals, including the civet cat, which is a delicacy eaten by some Chinese. SARS antibodies found in workers who handled exotic meat at the same market in southern China lend support to the theory.

Improving SARS treatment also has defied a rapid breakthrough. The current recommendation to doctors: Treat SARS with known antibiotics and antiviral drugs that are successful with other types of pneumonia, apply steroids in some cases, and pray. A WHO fact sheet to physicians concludes helplessly, "At present, the most efficacious treatment regime, if any, is unknown."

Conquering the unknowns is the main reason public-health officials will gather later this month for another global conference on SARS, to be held in Kuala Lumpur with over 400 health workers and SARS experts. They hope to discuss new treatment prospects and agree on further ways to control the spread of the virus.

But just as reported cases waned in Asia, health authorities in Toronto reported an outbreak of 20 possible new cases, prompting a new travel alert for Canada's largest city, more questions about where the virus is getting its start, and when it will end.


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