China hid its first bird flu death

In the aftermath of the SARS tragedy we were assued China was about to embark on a new course of Glasnost – openness and transparency. The scandal was unveiled in April of 2003, when we were all treated to the monumental press conference announcing the firing of the Beijing mayor and minister of health. It was the dawn of a new age.

Except for the fact that even then, as China aired its dirtiest linen in public in a scene of unprecedented frankness, there were still health risks that the state took pains to conceal, despite the potential harm such silence might pose to its citizens.

China revealed today that its first human death from bird flu was a soldier who died of the H5N1 strain in 2003, two years before the country first publicly acknowledged a human infection.

The confirmation showed that the virus was present in China before the outbreak of the virus was disclosed elsewhere in Asia and raised questions about Beijing’s ability to detect emerging diseases, as well as its transparency.

China’s Ministry of Health began tests on samples from the People’s Liberation Army private only after Chinese researchers published a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine in June saying that a 24-year-old soldier, who was admitted to hospital in November 2003 for respiratory distress and pneumonia and later died, had been infected with H5N1.

The man, identified only by his surname, Shi, was initially thought to have severe acute respiratory syndrome, but recent tests performed with the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed the cause as bird flu.

The UN health agency called on Beijing to re-examine other pneumonia cases of unknown origin to ensure better transparency. But a Health Ministry spokesman said the 2003 case was not evidence of an outbreak then and said the Government had no plans to review other cases.

China publicly announced its first human case of bird flu last November, when the virus was sweeping through Vietnam and Thailand. China has reported 20 infections of humans, of whom 12 have died – not including the 2003 case.

Of course, Beijing is saying there’s nothing to see here, and we all should just move along.

Mao Qun’an, a spokesman for the Health Ministry, said there was no need for alarm. ‘People shouldn’t panic. The country’s bird flu surveillance capability is much stronger now than it was two years ago.’

Just one simple question: Why should I believe him? Why should I believe anything he says?

Via the great CDT.

The Discussion: 6 Comments

And I have a simple answer to your simple question: you shouldn’t.
(Don’t worry, I understand it was a rhetorical question, just saying that I agree completely. After being quarantined during SARS pretty much because I was a “laowai,” and then still staying here after all those lies, I couldn’t be more disappointed at the fact that no matter what, this gov learns no lessons).

August 9, 2006 @ 12:15 am | Comment

I ran into our old friend just a short while ago. He offered to buy me a drink, but I had to get back to work. He gave me the address to his site, which I just viewed, and I see that the creator of your new logo has even left a comment.

August 9, 2006 @ 12:51 am | Comment

Sam, good to see you! Philip C. and you-know-who deserve one another – a match made in heaven. I hope they are happy together.

Whatever you do, never comment on sites of people you have reason to wonder about – you never know what they might do with your IP address. I know of several horror stories.

August 9, 2006 @ 1:05 am | Comment

He’s friendly enough. He’s always the first to offer a drink, and he supplies me with cigars too usually. I would have taken him up on his offer if i didn’t have to return to the office.

August 9, 2006 @ 1:38 am | Comment

Face. The saving of face. That pretty much seems to sum up the one driving principle behind much of the behavior I witness everyday I live in China. It’s not just the CCP but almost everyone with whom I have had contact. A direct answer to a direct question is almost impossible to elicit. So why would we expect the CCP to ever do anything other than lie, cover up, manipulate, etc.–in other words, to do whatever it takes to maintain their stranglehold on power? I don’t even think that they see anything wrong with it which is itself a far more troublesome.

Yes, these are sweeping generalizations and merely anecdotal observations….please accept them for what they are worth.

August 9, 2006 @ 8:07 am | Comment

All information on infectious diseases is still regarded as a state secret in China. As I said here a year ago, the “relevant authority” is China’s young head of its National Administration for Protection of State Secrets (国家保密局) Xia Yong:

I presume he was also implicated in the execution of the Taiwanese spy in China this week.

August 9, 2006 @ 10:08 pm | Comment

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