Thursday, 1 May 2003  
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Health Ministry ready to face SARS contingency

by Bharatha Malawaraarachchi

Health Minister P. Dayaratne yesterday assured that adequate precautionary measures are in place to prevent any possible outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus in Sri Lanka.

"People need not panic about SARS and all possible steps have been taken to prevent the virus spreading to Sri Lanka," the Minister told a special press briefing at the Ministry yesterday.

The Minister noted that screening and surveillance of passengers and crews at entry points such as the airport and seaports have been increased.

He said all passengers arriving from affected countries will be given a declaration form to be submitted at the immigration desk along with the disembarkation card.

"This form will be collected by the respective entry points' health centre and followed up by the Medical Officer of Health of the patients place of residence for any development of disease symptoms," he added.

Any suspected case detected would be examined by the health centre and sent to the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) for quarantine.

So far, health officials have detected 12 suspected cases and they were later discharged as medical examinations proved that they were negative for SARS virus. Minister Dayaratne said swift measures were being taken to upgrade the facilities at the IDH to provide treatment to any suspected SARS case.

Director General Health Services Dr. Athula Kahandaliyange said necessary instructions have been given to the healthcare workers. "They should not harbour any apprehension as required protective gear and equipment have been given to them," he added.

Referring to a recent incident where a pneumonia patient died en route after being transferred from Kurunegala to Colombo as medical officials suspected that she had SARS, Dr. Kahandaliyange said instructions have been given not to transfer any suspected cases from hospital to hospital and keep such patients isolated at the hospital where he is first admitted.

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