MSF Opens Program in China to Help Stop Spread of SARS

White flag with red logo of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) against sunny blue sky

© Valérie Batselaere/MSF

Hong Kong/Brussels, May 23, 2003 - Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has begun work in two Chinese hospitals in an effort to stop the spread of the SARS virus in the acutely affected province of Hebei. The team of six is working in the Infectious Diseases Hospital and Number 1 Hospital in Zhang Jia Kou city, where 60 people are suspected to have SARS. MSF staff will train hospital workers in infection control techniques and safe working practices to prevent the further transmission of the disease. They will also be providing educational information - initially to relatives of the patients - about what SARS is, how it is spread and what people can do to reduce their risk of becoming infected.

The team, which includes two Infection Control Nurses, one medical doctor, an Infectious Disease Hygiene and Sanitation specialist, and an Information officer, will base their work on SARS expertise gained by MSF while working in Vietnam and in Hong Kong. MSF's six-week intervention in Vietnam in March and April contributed to a fast and successful containment of the disease in the country. In China, MSF will take a similar approach, working in collaboration with city health authorities.

"From our previous experiences, we know that one of the most important elements of dealing with SARS is to get the protocols for handling patients right, from the moment they enter the hospital," explains Dan Sermand, head of the MSF mission. "We are pleased to be able to work in such close cooperation with the Chinese health authorities and hospital staff to help reduce the further spread of the disease."

The focus of the MSF assistance will be ensuring that the hospital isolation units are run in a way that prevents SARS from being transmitted to staff, patients and visitors. The team will work on waste management and disinfection protocols and the two nurses will provide support and advice to the SARS patient wards. The MSF medical doctor will do ward rounds with the hospital doctors to share clinical expertise. MSF will provide the hospital with "SARS kits" containing materials such as protective gloves, gowns, overalls, masks, shoe covers and caps. The organization will also assist the hospitals with redesigning the hospital layout in order to accommodate infectious disease patients.

Of the many provinces in mainland China struck by SARS, Hebei is currently the most severely affected. People are very scared, but many still don't understand what SARS really is and how it is spread. To try and tackle the lack of understanding, MSF hopes to begin a program next week to help inform relatives of patients about SARS.

"On the whole, the epidemic seems to be phasing down all over China," adds Francois Fille, MSF operational coordinator in Brussels, "and if this is the case then it is likely that we will be working in Zhang Jia Kou for less than a month. Obviously we will be watching how the things develops around the country and will be ready to offer extra assistance if needed."