China opens up on bird flu

And who says I don’t have good things to say about China’s government? They are becoming less and less atrocious in opening up about cases of bird flu in humans.

The Chinese government announced late today that it had confirmed the country’s first three cases of bird flu in people, an admission that marked a potentially far-reaching change in how China handles the emergence of new diseases.

The handling of all three cases contrasted markedly with China’s handling two years ago of SARS, which provincial Chinese officials here in southeastern China concealed for four months until the disease became an international epidemic. But when reports began circulating late last month of several mysterious illnesses in central China and provincial officials there were reluctant to investigate, Beijing authorities responded by seeking help from the World Health Organization and quickly sending in a team of national and overseas investigators.

“I think this is exactly what countries should do,” said Dick Thompson, a spokesman at the Geneva headquarters of the W.H.O., a United Nations agency. “They should be transparent. They should report early.”

China’s Health Ministry said this evening that bird flu had been confirmed in a 9-year-old boy and his 12-year-old sister in central China’s Hunan Province and in a 36-year-old woman in Anhui Province in east-central China. The boy has recovered and was released from the hospital last weekend; the girl and the woman died.

In confirming all three cases as infections with the H5N1 bird flu virus, the Chinese authorities went even further than the W.H.O. was willing to go.

This is really good. Credit where due. It’s just a shame that the best we can say is that they are finally doing what they should be doing as opposed to following their traditional pattern of secrecy and deception at the expense of the lives of their citizens. (Check out their track record on AIDS, for example. And we all know the SARS story.)

The Discussion: One Comment

Each piece of good news like this must be cherished like an accidentally discovered nugget of gold. Let’s hope it’s another harbinger of more change to come.

Now, pass the Tamiflu, please.

November 17, 2005 @ 3:05 am | Comment

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