Via JoongAng Daily: After MERS, Korea struggles to improve system. I wish we got many more follow-up reports like this one. Excerpt:
Looking back at the past year since the MERS outbreak, the JoongAng Ilbo set out to examine just how much Korea’s medical personnel have learned from the harrowing experience and how they’re putting those lessons into action.
So far, not much seems to have improved.
At a recent visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Cheongju, North Chungbuk, a 24-hour central command for emergency responses, which was launched last January, workers primarily complained of a lack of human resources.
Eleven workers - three full-time public servants and eight part-time researchers - work in teams of two, rotating in three shifts covering 20 to 30 calls each day, compiling the latest updates on MERS and the newly-emerging Zika virus, as well as looking into relevant cases from abroad.
In case a new MERS or Zika patient appears, the center is also in charge of releasing information to the local media, such as the person’s pre-diagnosis travel route and the name of the hospital or medical clinic.
Aside from a dearth of manpower, the EOC also finds it difficult to communicate with public health centers, which they’re obligated to contact after identifying a suspected MERS or Zika patient, due to their different working hours. While the EOC works round the clock, public health centers usually run from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
When Korea’s second Zika patient was reported one Saturday last month by a local hospital in Nowon District, northern Seoul, the neighborhood’s public health center picked up the message the following Monday morning.
When another hospital in Jongno District, central Seoul, called the EOC last month in the wee hours of a Wednesday to report a suspected case of MERS by a woman who arrived from the United Arab Emirates, it took over two hours for a worker from the public health center to arrive at the hospital.
“This country needs a system,” says Kim Yun, a professor at Seoul National University College of Medicine, “where epidemiologists can be mobilized for emergency calls. It’s about time we make bold investments in human resources like the United States.”
On another front, the Ministry of Health and Welfare announced earlier this year that three to five public and national hospitals will be designated as hospitals specializing in infectious disease treatments, working with the Ministry of Strategy and Finance to determine exactly how many hospitals will be designated as such, but it appears that those decisions have yet to be made. Sources from the ministry said discussions are ongoing.
Another unsolved issue is the government’s order that hospitals with more than 300 hospital beds must create at least one negative-pressure isolation ward, which will block cross-contaminations from room to room. Authorities expect the number of such facilities to rise from 100 to 1,500 by 2020.
But, pointing out that these rooms will likely operate at 30 percent capacity and that local hospitals will have to empty two six-person wards and spend 200 million to 300 million won ($168,132 to $251,943) each in order to build them, doctors here doubt that hospitals will volunteer to maintain such facilities in the long run.