EMORY UNIVERSITY'S JEFFREY KOPLAN JOINS HONG KONG SARS EXPERT COMMITTEE
IN REPORT TO GOVERNMENT
Report Contains Valuable Lessons for International Public Health Community
on Preparing for Infectious Disease Outbreaks
ATLANTA — Jeffrey P. Koplan, MD, MPH, vice president for academic health
affairs at Emory University, is one of 11 international public health
experts who reported this week to the Hong Kong government on lessons
learned from that country’s SARS outbreak. The SARS Expert Committee
was commissioned last May to review the management and control of the
epidemic and to identify lessons to be learned to better prepare Hong
Kong for any future outbreaks.
The committee includes renowned experts from Hong Kong, Mainland China,
the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, selected for their
wide range of relevant experience. Dr. Koplan, who is former director
of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Dr. Harvey
Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National
Academy of Sciences, are the only two U.S. members on the committee.
"This report is not only valuable for the Hong Kong government and public
health community for managing and controlling future outbreaks, it also
contains many valuable lessons for the United States and the entire
international community," Dr. Koplan said. "Our experience with SARS
certainly helped us more clearly identify many of the challenges we
will face in future outbreaks and better prepare ourselves to face these
Although the SARS Expert Committee Report to the Government of Hong
Kong concluded that Hong Kong handled the SARS epidemic well in many
respects, it also noted significant shortcomings in the country’s health
system during the epidemic’s early stages, when little was known about
the disease and when health workers themselves became ill.
"All nations, particularly in this age of easy and frequent global travel,
are vulnerable to the formidable threats of emerging infectious diseases,"
Dr. Koplan warns. "We can be assured that either SARS or another equally
vicious disease will present itself in the future and we would be well
advised to make the changes in our surveillance and healthcare systems
that will allow us to deal with diseases effectively. The Hong Kong
government is to be commended for addressing these issues head on."
Dr. Koplan regularly serves as a consultant to the World Bank and the
WHO on public health programs. He has worked in Finland on cardiovascular
programs, consulted on infectious and chronic disease issues in China
for more than 20 years, and designed efforts to prevent chronic disease
in Hungary. In 1984 he led the U.S. team investigating the Bhopal chemical
disaster in India. He serves on the Global Health Board of the Institute
The committee’s 46 recommendations were grouped within 12 strategic
themes, some of which centered on restructuring parts of the Hong Kong
health system, such as better coordination and communication between
the hospital authority and the health department. Others stressed the
need for strengthening surveillance mechanisms throughout the entire
health care community, including prompt and routine reporting of suspicious
diagnoses. Contingency planning, site-specific plans within the public
and private sectors, and a clear chain of command in case of emergency
also were cited as high priorities.
Inadequate surge capacity in hospitals and the public health system
were noted as major problems during the SARS epidemic, and the committee
recommended improvements in hospital facilities and clinical skills.
Close collaboration with the entire international community was stressed
as a key factor in dealing with emerging diseases, in addition to communication
with the public to establish a level of trust. The committee also recommended
the establishment of a CDC-like unit, termed a Center for Health Protection,
with particular focus on surveillance, outbreak identification and control,
and epidemiologic capacity.
"As the U.S. prepares itself for the possibility of a future SARS-like
outbreak, we should focus on these very same issues, particularly hospital
capacity, effective communication and collaboration within our public
health system, infection control within healthcare facilities and increased
surveillance procedures," said Dr. Koplan.
The entire report of the Hong Kong SARS Expert Committee may be viewed
on the committee’s website at http://www.SARS-expertcom.gov.HK