Past experience with SARS, MERS helped Vietnam, S. Korea respond better to COVID-19 crisis: experts

Rose Carmelle Lacuata, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 18 2020 09:15 PM

Healthcare workers wait at an outdoor drive-through antigen testing facility in Cubao Quezon City on November 10, 2020. COVID-19 cases in the country nears the 400,000 mark with the Department of Health reporting 398,449 total cases since March with 29,018 active cases in the country. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News


MANILA - Health experts from Vietnam and South Korea said their past experience with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has helped them in responding to the current COVID-19 crisis.

Thu Anh Nguyen, country director of the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Vietnam, said the rapid strong and multisectoral response the country implemented was based on its experience in controlling SARS in 2003 and H1N1 in 2009.

Vietnam's first case was reported on Jan. 23, and until Nov. 15, the country only has 1,281 total cases, with 35 deaths. It had three outbreaks so far.

"The government has taken a very, very quick rapid, strong and multisectoral response as what we learned when we controlled SARS in 2003 and H1N1 pandemic in 2009," she said in an online forum organized by the Solidarity of Health Advocates and Personnel for a Unified Plan to Defeat COVID-19 (SHAPE UP) Tuesday.

Nguyen also highlighted the rapid testing, tracing and quarantine system implemented in Vietnam.

Based on Vietnam's experience, Nguyen said leadership and investment in public health helped a lot in controlling the spread of the disease.

"The leadership of the government is very important, and they do invest a lot in public health to respond to the outbreak," she said.

She also underscored the importance of communication, trust and compliance of the people to the rules being implemented by the government.

Meanwhile, Jung-woo Kim of the People's Health Institute in South Korea said the country's experience with MERS in 2015 helped authorities deal with the current health crisis better.

South Korea had 186 confirmed MERS cases with 38 deaths.

"Citizens, medical staff and government all remember the MERS. Because of this, citizens were more alert with COVID-19, and some medical staff, which experienced MERS at that time, responded better," Kim said.

The government, through its MERS experience in 2015, realize the importance of quick response to infectious diseases, he added.

"I think this is very important, making sure that the government realize that poor response to the infectious disease crisis can be a threat to the administration."

Kim cited as well the importance of collaborative governance between the government and civil society, especially in terms of information dissemination.

As of Wednesday, South Korea has a total of 29,311 cases, with 496 deaths, according to The Korea Herald.

WHAT CAN PH LEARN FROM VIETNAM, SOUTH KOREA?

While Nguyen acknowledged that it is difficult to replicate what Vietnam has done, she highlighted the role of the community in curbing the spread of the disease.

"It's difficult to replicate what Vietnam has done because now in many countries, ... many cases occur in the community. However, if we have the will, we will find a way to respond to COVID-19. And even if we don't have capacity and resources to do testing, we can always find other approach such as quarantine to limit transmission to the community. And I believe that the role of the people in the community is very, very important," Nguyen said.

"We should not only rely on the leadership but as the name of the group, the mobilization of the community in responding to COVID-19 could change the way how a country could respond to the pandemic," she added.

"We should raise our voice for change. We keep fighting," Kim, for his part, said.

In the Philippines, the novel coronavirus has so far sickened 412,097. The tally includes 7,957 deaths, 374,666 recoveries, and 29,474 active cases.

The new coronavirus is believed to have first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

Based on the latest tally of the US-based Johns Hopkins University, more than 50.9 million people across the world have been infected by the COVID-19 virus, of whom, more than 1.26 million have died.

Treatment and vaccine for the disease are still being developed.

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