RP NOW ON W.H.O. SARS MAPManila, April 13, 2003 -- The discovery of the Philippines' first suspected case of severe acute respiratory syndrome put the country on the SARS map of the World Health Organization, a development that health officials believe would strengthen Manila's SARS-control program. Jean Marc Olive, WHO country representative, said the Philippines is the 16th country to be listed with 'probable' cases of SARS. A separate list records Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Singapore and Canada as confirmed SARS-infected countries. Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit said Manila now qualifies as a recipient of diagnostic tools and quarantine equipment that Japan is donating. "It is important to put the Philippines on the list of countries with probable SARS cases to step up our campaign against the disease," Olive said. The Department of Health is tightening the quarantine services points of entry to the country beginning with the acquisition of disposable thermoscans, a device that checks the temperature of a passenger before and after boarding an aircraft. The thermoscan determines if a traveler has fever, a symptom of SARS. Dayrit announced on Friday that a Caucasian businessman who jets around Southeast Asia could be the country's first SARS patient. In a briefing, Dayrit said that a blood sample of the 64-year-old patient would be sent to Japan on Monday for a polymerase chain reaction test, which would confirm the presence of the corona virus that triggers SARS. The results of the examination will be determined in two to four weeks. The Philippines has two suspected SARS patients. They are confined at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, one of two hospitals tasked by the health department to manage SARS patients. In Hong Kong, a Filipino housemaid is still in the intensive-care unit of a as a probable case of SARS, the last among the seven Filipino expatriates initially reported as infected. Dayrit said a team of experts is now tracking peoplein Hong Kong and Manilawho were in contact with the patient to determine if they were infected. "So far no close contact of the patient appears to be developing symptoms of SARS," he said. For now, the Philippines is among the least affected by SARS, which has killed 114 persons worldwide and infected over 3,000 since it was detected in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong in November. The Xinhua news agency said 10 other cases were reported in Hohhot, the capital of Nei Monggol (Inner Mongolia) autonomous region. WHO officials said on Friday that the epidemic was being contained elsewhere in the worldbut that they were worried about China. "There is one caveat and that is China. We do not know what is going on outside Guangdong," said David Heymann, WHO head of communicable diseases. Nearly a month after WHO launched its first global alert for the mystery disease that has created panic in much of Asia, the worst-hit region, WHO, nevertheless, said there were signs that SARS may have peaked. Even Hong Kong, which has the highest incidence after China, showed signs that local health authorities were beginning to win the battle, Heymann said. Hong Kong is home to several hundreds of thousands of Filipino workers, some 8,000 of whom are expected to return here for the Holy Week. One Filipino housemaid, Adela Dalingay, recently died of SARS in Hong Kong. Her remains were cremated immediately before her ashes were flown from the former British colony. Another SARS victim, a Filipino housemaid, identified only as "CY," is believed to be in critical condition in a Hong Kong hospital. She is working at the Amoy Garden apartments in Kowloon.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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