Mon, 02 Jun 2003

SARS: Govt to remain on alert

Sari P. Setiogi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government would keep an eye on efforts to contain Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), although there have been no new probable cases over the past month, an official said.

"It is still too early to declare the country SARS-free, although the last probable case was announced on April 21, more than a month ago. We have passed three 10-day incubation periods without any new cases," Syafii Anwar, secretary to the director general of Communicable Diseases Eradication and Health Environment (P2M), told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

"Several other countries in the region have not yet had their SARS-affected status lifted, so there is a possibility that people from those countries may infect someone here," he said.

From the epidemiological point of view, only probable cases would be considered infected, he explained.

The first probable case of SARS in the country was a British national, while the second was a 65-year-old Indonesian national.

Indonesia has become more optimistic with the World Health Organization's (WHO's) decision to lift the travel ban imposed on Singapore, declaring that the city-state had been successful in containing SARS. More than 30 people in Singapore have died from the disease.

Syafii, however, could not guarantee that Indonesia would be 100 percent free of the disease in the future.

"As we have learned from Canada and Taiwan, the first peak in the number of cases was followed by another. SARS is not like other communicable diseases that ease off after reaching their peak," said Syafii.

In response, the government is again stepping up measures, particularly at about 40 unofficial ports of entry.

There are 24 such entry points in West Kalimantan alone, including Nunukan, while about five to 10 are located in Sumatra, mostly along the Riau coastal line, and another five in Sulawesi, said Syafii.

The government is now conducting the Acute Pneumonia Surveillance program in cooperation with local community health centers (Puskesmas) at entry points.

"Those who display atypical pneumonia symptoms, whether it is SARS-related or not, should be isolated at home for 10 days," said Syafii.

He added that the government was also preparing the Early Warning Outbreak Recognition System (EWORS).

"The system will enable us to predict from the emergence of symptoms, what kind of outbreak we might expect," he said. "EWORS will become operational in mid-June."

The government is to open virology laboratories in the North Sumatra capital of Medan and in the South Sulawesi capital of Makassar in order to facilitate the new programs.