Volunteers working to prevent spread of atypical pneumonia

Published: 8 April 2003 0:00 CET

To date, at least 98 people have died around the world from the atypical pneumonia called “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) with China and the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong being the worst hit. Although the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, thought to be the origin of the syndrome, has seen the largest outbreak of the disease, cases have been reported elsewhere in the country, including four people in the capital, Beijing. In total, nearly 1270 people have succumbed to SARS in China with 53 people dying. This out of a global total of 2,601 cases. The Red Cross Society of China is continuing to monitor the situation closely and is on standby to cooperate with its health ministry if requested.

In Hong Kong, where 23 people have died so far, the number of cases has now jumped to 883 people. Although the main mode of transmission of SARS is through body contact and body fluids, investigations in Hong Kong are concentrating on unconfirmed reports of faecal-oral transmission as well.

In response to the crisis in Hong Kong, the Red Cross has begun a disease prevention campaign targeting particularly vulnerable people in the community such as the elderly. Red Cross volunteers are visiting the elderly at home to distribute hygiene kits. A total of 100,000 kits which include sterilizing tablets, standard surgical masks, and SARS prevention guidelines will be distributed.

“We have met with a good response from the community,” says Wilson Wong, Hong Kong Red Cross deputy secretary general. “We believe our campaign helps reduce anxiety about SARS among elderly people and helps us in our mission to build a caring community in Hong Kong,” he adds.

In addition to the hygiene kits which will be mainly funded by an appeal for more than US$ 250,000, the Hong Kong Red Cross have also carried out a disease prevention campaign among the broader public through the distribution of 300,000 "Heart-to-Heart" cards. Each card has on one side prevention tips against SARS, while the other half is open for sympathy messages that can be forwarded onto patients and medical staff by the Red Cross.

Elsewhere, several countries in South East Asia, Europe and North America have seen outbreaks, particularly Canada, Vietnam and Singapore. In Singapore, the Red Cross has put ambulances on standby at the request of the government to transport suspected cases to the hospital. Here, six people have died from SARS with a total reported caseload of 106.

In Canada, the Red Cross has begun to deliver medical supplies provided by health departments to people who are quarantined in their homes in Toronto and the Region of York, both in Ontario province which has seen the largest number of SARS cases. Working with their counterparts from St. John Ambulance, Red Cross volunteers are providing five days of surgical masks, thermometers and information on SARS.

“We will be delivering supplies on a daily basis, in order to ensure that people impacted have the necessary equipment to prevent the spread of this virus and to alleviate any discomfort they may be experiencing,” says Steven Armstrong, Manager of Disaster Services for the Canadian Red Cross.

With a total of 9 deaths and 90 cases of SARS in five provinces across the country, the Canadian Red Cross has also offered assistance in other areas which have been affected, such as Ottawa.

With the numbers of cases still increasing globally, travel restrictions have been put into place by several countries with the World Health Organization (WHO) also advising against non-essential travel to Hong Kong and southern China. However, other challenges remain in containing the disease.

“We still don’t know for sure if there are other ways that SARS can be transmitted while tests for the disease need to provide results more quickly,” says Hakan Sandblagh, emergency health advisor at the International Federation.

Related Links:

Information Bulletin - Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
WHO - SARS Updates