China Comes Clean on Disease

John Barham, International Editor

Infectious diseases killed 741 people in China in September and sickened nearly 500,000, according to the Chinese government,  reports


The report from China’s health ministry is a sign of the government's increasing openness in reporting and divulging public health data. A World Health Organization (WHO) official tells Security Management that China has significantly improved its health management policies in recent years, and no longer systematically suppresses or distorts reports of infectious disease outbreaks.


China has set up world-class reporting and data processing centers and is in close communication with WHO and other public health bodies around the world, says the official. In the past, China’s ruling Communist Party would suppress reports of outbreaks of avian influenza and SARs, as well as the extent of HIV/AIDS infection. The government feared public reaction over epidemics would undermine its grip on power.


China’s large population, dense cities, and extensive migration make it a vast incubator of diseases. People in rural communities live in close proximity to their livestock, which facilitates the development and interchange of infectious agents.


The health ministry says the top five killersin China last month were rabies, tuberculosis, AIDS, hepatitis B, and neonatal tetanus. The five most prevalent infectious diseases, accounting for 88 percent of cases, were tuberculosis, hepatitis B, diarrhea, syphilis, and gonorrhea.


Although the WHO official says reporting processes in China were still deficient and that government manipulation may still continue, he said the country is “generally on the right track.” He says concern about reporting and tracking diseases such as avian influenza has shifted to other Asian countries, especially Indonesia.


Look for more on this topic in the December edition of Security Management.


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