When the Chinese Embassy in Washington sent out hundreds of e-mails early last month asking the world for ideas and information on how to control the spread of Sars, hopes were high for valuable contributions.
Among those offering a quick response was Sybase, which donated some $300,000 worth of database management software which will be used to help monitor and track existing and new cases of the dangerous and potentially fatal respiratory disease.
Larry Wu, second secretary for science and technology at the Chinese Embassy, said he sent out the e-mails at the suggestion of his boss, Jin Xiaoming, the minister counselor of the embassy. Hundreds of replies came back from technology companies, business associations, consultants and others, mostly in the US.
One of the e-mail recipients was the nonprofit Computerworld Honors Program, which recognises IT users around the world who take technology in new and innovative directions to benefit mankind.
One of the programme's main goals is to bring together people who might be able to help each other using technology throughout the world, said Dan Morrow, executive director of the programme. For the group, the Sars problem was a perfect issue.
Wu's e-mail was forwarded by Morrow and his staff to members of the Honors Program board, including a representative at Sybase's offices in China.
Sybase chief executive officer John Chen said his company's manager in China quickly e-mailed him and other executives inside the company, suggesting that they assist the Chinese health authorities.
"We all immediately, within minutes, said 'great idea'," Chen said. "They asked for help, and we were just qualified in this case to help them."
Wu said the e-mail mass mailing brought in many suggestions.
"This was a huge chain, and we really don't know how many received it," Wu said. Some respondents offered products or medicines and some offered other types of assistance.
Sybase made a specific offer to send an assortment of software products free of charge - including Sybase IQ, Enterprise Application Server, Adaptive Server Enterprise, PowerBuilder and PowerDesigner - to create critically needed databases to track and monitor SARS cases in hospitals, emergency rooms and other health centres across the country.
Sybase made the donation to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) to establish a data analysis system across the country's medical departments and institutes.
Zhu Zhinan, deputy director of the China CDC, said in a statement that the donation will give a key boost to his nation's fight against the disease.
"The battle against Sars is a great challenge for everyone," he said, "and with the generous contribution of Sybase, we can reach new heights in Sars prevention, control and research."
Sars is a flulike illness first identified in humans in Vietnam in February, according to the World Health Organisation. As of yesterday, 8,435 Sars cases have been reported around the world, with 789 deaths.
Todd R Weiss writes for Computerworld