Doctors Without Borders Withdraws Medical Team from Vietnam After Successful Containment of SARS in the Country

Hanoi, April 30 2003 - Today, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is withdrawing its six-person team from the Bach Mai hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam, where it has been assisting with the containment of the pneumonia virus known as SARS. There have been no new cases of SARS reported in the country for 22 days, and on Monday Vietnam was the first to be removed from the World Health Organization (WHO) list of affected countries. MSF believes that the success of the containment owed much to the open approach of the Vietnamese government and the successful collaboration between the national authorities, the WHO, and hospital and MSF medical staff.

According to Dan Sermand, head of the MSF team in Hanoi, "Prior to April 8th, there were 63 reported cases of SARS, a high proportion of whom were health care workers from the French hospital. Five patients in total died from the virus. However, there is now only one SARS patient remaining in the hospital, (and he) is out of danger."

"The fast decision to put all patients into the Bach Mai hospital facilitated the effective management and control of the epidemic." Sermand reports. "We gained valuable experience of dealing with SARS in Vietnam and hope to be able to use our knowledge to benefit other countries struggling to keep SARS under control."

The MSF team arrived at the Bach Mai hospital on March 19th to set up an isolation wing and provide training for the local medical staff in isolating patients and protecting health care workers. "When the SARS epidemic first broke out, the nursing staff at the hospital had little experience in using nursing barriers and protection techniques," says Sermand. "We trained them in how to protect themselves and other staff from infection. We also set up systems to control people moving in and out of the hospital to contain the spread of the virus."

The provision of psychological support to patients and staff was also an important element of MSF's work. SARS patients and health care workers, as well as their families, all suffered from high levels of stress, caused by the fear of infection and stigmatization by the local community.

Based on their experiences in Vietnam, the MSF team is now preparing a "SARS kit" and guidelines for hospitals dealing with SARS, which will be available for use by medical staff working in other countries.

"The numbers of SARS cases is continuing to rise in some areas of Southeast Asia. We are hopeful that the knowledge gained by MSF during the Hanoi experience can be useful to other regions of Southeast Asia affected by SARS," said Sermand.