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President Chen Inspects the Quarantine Wards of Taipei Veterans General Hospital

Taipei, May 12 (CNA) President Chen Shui-bian paid a visit Monday to Taipei Veterans General Hospital (VGH) to express his admiration for medical personnel who are fighting severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) on the frontline.

Chen went directly to the hospital's quarantine wards to express his respect for health care workers for their devotion to their duty of caring for SARS patients.

As Monday happened to be Nurse's Day, Chen took advantage of the occasion to convey his best wishes to nurses around the nation.

He also reminded all hospital staff that they should adopt strict measures to protect themselves before coming into contact with patients. "You must give priority to your own health and safety while caring for patients," he urged.

Chen said he understands many nurses have been in no mood to celebrate Nurse's Day, or even Mother's Day which fell a day earlier, amid the current SARS outbreak. "I know you are working under rigorous, stressful conditions. This is why I'm here to show my admiration and gratitude for your devoted services," Chen said.

The president acknowledged that he himself has also felt down as Lin Chia-ling, a nurse at Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital, died of SARS Sunday. Lin was the third local nurse to succumb to the highly contagious pneumonia-like disease.

Chen expressed his earnest hope that all other hospitalized SARS-infected medical workers can overcome the disease and regain their health.

He also disclosed for the first time that he had received a "distress call" April 22 informing him that many Hoping Hospital staff members might have come down with SARS. "The phone call was from Huang Fang-ku, vice president of Shin Kong Wu Ho Su Memorial Hospital. At the time, I thought it was an SOS call. so I immediately directed staff of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) under the Cabinet-level Department of Health to look into the situation there," Chen said.

Initially, Chen explained, the CDC said Hoping Hospital didn't report any problems. "But I felt something might be wrong and demanded that the CDC continue its probe. The SARS outbreak there then surfaced, and the facility was sealed off April 24, " he recalled.

"Therefore, I called an emergency meeting in the evening of April 26," he pointed out. "Since the campaign against SARS is the medical equivalent of war, I came up with an action plan at the meeting, ordering that all people in the hospital, including staff members, patients and visitors, be evacuated within 36 hours," Chen said.

As to why Lin Chia-ling, a nurse at Hoping's obstetrics-gynecology department, had contracted SARS, Chen said that Lin had unknowingly looked after a SARS-infected Indonesian caregiver who later died of the disease. "Lin had come down with SARS mainly because she didn't take proper precautionary measures," Chen told a group of VGH nurses in an apparent effort to assuage their anxiety.

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