HK's "SARS heros" share reflections a decade after deadly virus outbreak

Source:Xinhua Published: 2013-2-20 9:06:39

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,"recalling on the dark days fighting SARS a decade ago, Prof. Joseph J.Y. Sung, a renowned "SARS hero" in Hong Kong, always refers to British novelist Charles Dickens's wisdom.

SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome), a viral respiratory disease in humans, has caused 299 deaths in Hong Kong during its outbreak in 2003.

In March 2003, dozens of hospital workers in Prince of Wales Hospital, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)'s teaching hospital, were infected by a SARS patient, triggering the start of the hardy battle against SARS in Hong Kong.

Joseph J.Y. Sung, then the head of Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, Facility of Medicine of the CUHK, led his medical team to fight against the SARS days and nights for months. In recognition of their contributions, the Time magazine named them the "Asian Heroes" of 2003.

A decade on, Sung and his colleagues, better known as the " SARS heroes" among Hong Kong residents, shared their reflections on the battle against the virus at a press conference Tuesday in the Prince of Wales Hospital.

"Although we were facing a very difficult change at that moment (during the outbreak), we did see some good things coming out of it and we have learned some very important lessens, "said Sung, now the president of CUHK.

"We saw professionalism being demonstrated among health care workers; We saw solidarity from the community; And we saw journalists did an excellent job to formulating the knowledge at that time," he said.

"Looking back 10 years from now, there are many reflections we have made," said the gray-haired Sung.

Yet the biggest lesson he has learned is that infection belongs not only to developing countries, but also to cosmopolitan cities like Hong Kong.

"We are actually more exposed to various types of infection because of international traveling. Therefore, education, training and research in these areas are important," he said, adding the Hong Kong SAR government has put up a new research fund since 2004 to support these kinds of research and established the Centre for Health Protection in Hong Kong.

Prof. David Shu Cheong Hui, head of Division of Respiratory Medicine of the Faculty of Medicine of the CUHK, who also devoted himself into the SARS battle, said "Ten years back, in the first few weeks, we were working in the dark. There were so many unfavorable factors."

"But nowadays we are working in a much safer environment, we know how to protect ourselves, we also have much better knowledge about the risk and better diagnosis methods," he said.

Prof. Nelson Lai Shun Lee, head of the Division of Infectious Diseases of the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, Faculty of Medicine of CUHK, said "We are now in a better shape to do with infection; we have better facilities, better knowledge among helper and workers."

As for the novel coronavirus recently reported in the UK and the Mideast, Prof. Hui said there's the possibility that a virus mutation with high rates of transmission emerges, and the novel coronavirus' death rate is rather high (with 5 deaths out of 12 infections up to now), so it should be dealt with seriously.

To further review the SARS experience and improve infectious disease preparedness, the CUHK will organize the "SARS A Decade On: A Conference for the Health Professionals" on March 12.

Renowned speakers from mainland China, China's Hong Kong, the UK, Singapore, Canada, and the World Health Organization (WHO) will share their experience and views on various challenging aspects in the forthcoming conference, Prof. Sung said.

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