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China: Gaps Seen in Government’s Ability to Detect Disease Outbreaks

Despite advances made since the emergence of SARS and avian flu, China’s ability to detect new outbreaks remains “underdeveloped,” a leading Chinese health official acknowledged last week.

The comment appeared in an article in the journal Health Affairs written jointly by Dr. Zijian Feng, director of emergency response at China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and two of his American C.D.C. counterparts.

China’s public health system, created in the 1950s on a Soviet model to detect plague, rabies, cholera and polio, was understaffed and slow to react when SARS struck in 2003. Since then, billions have been spent, especially on laboratories.

Reporting of 27 suspected diseases through an online network is now mandatory. The country’s 20,000 hospitals are then supposed to forward specimens to regional labs for confirmation, but the number received “is not very high,” the report said, and hospitals often demand payment.

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