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Taiwan uses internet to fight Sars

Plans to prevent another outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) in Taiwan, including sharing information on the disease with other cities over the internet, were put into action yesterday as government health officials announced that a lab researcher had tested positive for the disease.

For months, Taipei has been bracing itself for the possibility that Sars could return with the onset of winter. The city has implemented a range of measures that include stepping up preparations to contain the spread of a disease outbreak and using technology to share information with other cities to track the spread of the disease if an outbreak occurs, said Dr Hang Chang, the city's health commissioner.

The Inter-City Sars Prevention Forum (ISPF) is a collaborative effort set up between the departments of health in six cities - Taipei, Hanoi, Toronto, Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore - to share information on certain infectious diseases, including Sars, in the hopes of preventing a disease outbreak from spreading between different cities.

Information on outbreaks of diseases such as Sars and Japanese encephalitis, a mosquito-borne viral infection endemic through much of South and East Asia, is shared between cities by e-mail and on the ISPF website, which can be accessed by member cities.

"Once anyone is suspected to be infected by Sars we can monitor the situation and we can report the situation step by step, day by day or even hour by hour to our friends around the world by e-mail and by the web page," Chang said.

In this way, ISPF member cities are able to track the progress of a suspected Sars case even before it is confirmed, allowing them time to take preventative measures of their own, as necessary, he said.

Lessons drawn from Taipei's experience during the Sars outbreak earlier this year have helped lay the groundwork for preparations to prevent another outbreak of the disease, Chang said.

Sumner Lemon writes for IDG News Service

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