Facts and trends
Complaints against oil companies
Violation of OECD guidelines?
EU offer for GATS negotiations
Interview with Wolfgang Preiser:
SARS: a new epidemic of the poor?
Multilateral Agreement on Investment:
the WTO is the wrong place for negotiations
Clare Short resigns
The Utstein Group
promoted by the state or a countervailing power?
Wieczorek-Zeul praises development in Benin
[ Interview with Wolfgang Preiser ]
SARS: a new epidemic of the poor?
A World Health Organisation (WHO) official at the end of April described the new SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus, which has so far affected about 8300 people, 750 of them fatally, mainly in China, as an unparalleled threat. Other experts warn against panicmongering. We spoke to Frankfurt virologist Dr Wolfgang Preiser, who visited China in April as a member of a WHO delegation.
Dr Preiser, can the spread of SARS still be contained, or is there a danger of a new global pandemic like AIDS?
We have not yet given up hope that the syndrome can be eliminated completely. That will not, of course, be easier the greater the growth in the number of those infected by it. The key lies in China, and there unfortunately much time was lost. There are also some findings, that however need further confirmation, according to which people who have not fallen ill could carry the SARS virus and transmit it to others. That would make it unlikely, or even impossible, that SARS could be wiped out.
What distinguishes SARS from the influenza waves which hit the world every few years, resulting in many deaths, and then sooner or later disappear?
In terms of the number of deaths, it is true that that every normal influenza wave has far greater consequences that SARS has had to date. But we must consider that usually, thanks to the global WHO network on influenza, we know quickly with which virus strain we are dealing and that there is a vaccination for it. That is not the case with SARS.
Is SARS more dangerous than AIDS because you can become infected more easily?
Theoretically, AIDS would be an easily preventable problem because, after all, we know the ways in which people become infected by it. At the beginning of the 1980s, when there were only some thousands of AIDS patients worldwide, very few people foresaw that we would now have more than 40 million of them and 28 million deaths due to AIDS. The situation is similar today with SARS: we do not know how it will develop.
What must be done to prevent the lasting global spread of SARS? Are bans on entry for people from affected countries, such as that imposed by Taiwan at the end of April, overdoing it?
Yes. The action in China of placing entire blocks of flats under quarantine or disinfecting public buildings and transport gives the impression that lost time is to be caught up with by exaggerated action for action's sake. I fear that in the end such 'actionism' has a counterproductive effect because it distracts from the essential task of isolating and treating the sick and purposefully tracing the people with whom the patients had such close contact that they, too, might have become infected.
AIDS is now mainly a problem for the poor people in developing countries. Could SARS also develop into an epidemic of the poor?
I fear so. The industrialised nations will get the virus under control. But the public health systems in developing countries will be absolutely unable to cope. This can already be seen in China, where rich provinces and cities such as Guangdong and Shanghai have equipped themselves well, while poor provinces such as Shanxi are having difficulties. They have big problems, and my greatest worry at present is that SARS could spread in Africa and South Asia.
Questions by Tillmann Elliesen.