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NIEUWS van Mei 2003
Ultra runners from all over the world might ask themselves whether the 100km World Championships will be held in Taiwan or not: SARS is a big issue here, and the question is: will the situation be under control this autumn? Iím a Dutch ex-ultra long distance runner (former Dutch 100K-champion, record holder of the Texel 120K). Iíve been living in Taiwan for more than three years, and IAU-official Ton Smeets asked me to provide ultra-long distance runners with a SARS-analysis.

Of course nobody can predict the future, the only thing we can do is: pray for the people in Taiwan. Nevertheless, it seems to be appropriate to analyze the facts from inside (after all, I have lived in Taiwan for more than three years, so one might say I know what Iím talking about).

A major principle of future prediction is an analysis of the past. I think lots of disasters could have been avoided if people had been analyzing history better. Therefore, Iím presenting a summary of the Taiwanese SARS events in the past two months:

1. The superintendent of Ho Ping Hospital in Taipei doesnít tell the authorities thereís a SARS patient in his hospital. As a result, SARS breaks out.

2. The government doesnít know how to handle the situation. Ho Ping Hospital is sealed off, but the 2,400 medical staff inside face the result of a kind of savage-society medical environment, disastrous if one wants to fight the SARS-syndrome. Compared to the hospitals in Taiwan, the Dutch hospitals, for example, are five-star hotels. Doctors and nurses have to wear the same masks for two weeks, they donít have protection suits. Nevertheless, they have to deal with the situation, and more of them are infected.

3. In spite of this, one can say that quite a lot of doctors and nurses are totally irresponsible. Senior doctors, for example, are like Gods in Taiwan. Ė What happens? They send young, inexperienced doctors and nurses to the SARS- patients; they wonít go there themselves, because they donít want to be infected. The head of the lung-disease treatments at Ho Ping Hospital hides in his office and tells a young doctor (two days experience!) to help patients with Ďa lung diseaseí, but doesnít tell him itís about SARS, though he knows bloody well itís about the syndrome. The ignorant young doctor treats the patients without any protection, gets infected and dies several days later. According to me, the senior doctor murdered his younger colleague. This situation shows the overall situation in the Taiwanese hospitals. Further, last week, 140 doctors and nurses quit their jobs, making a farce of the Hippocratic oath (letís make that the Ďhypocritical oathí).

4. The media covers the facts in a one-sided way. Drama is a basic ingredient of news coverage in the country, so the media shows screaming doctors and nurses, but doesnít focus on level-minded medical staff, apparently because thatís boring. Taiwanese people donít know, because of this, how to distinguish facts from fiction and act likewise. Further, the media publishes and broadcasts plain wrong information. A few weeks ago, they said if you exercise enough, itís less likely to get SARS. Why they covered this nonsense is still incomprehensible. But many people started exercising a lot, while they hadnít exercised at all before. Every runner knows that you bring your body-resistance down if you do too much. If one wants to fight SARS, thatís not exactly a priority.

5. People can be irresponsible. Though I think many Taiwanese obey the SARS rules, the others make the situation dangerous. They donít stick to quarantine-rules, and donít wear a mask if the boss is not there. Ė Donít let me be misunderstood; I donít want to suggest that Taiwanese people are worse than westerners. If one talks about a whole nation, thereís always a reason for their behavior. Since ages ago, occupants have dictated the behavior of the Taiwanese. Thinking about the last century, we have the autocratic Japanese and dictator Chiang-Kai-shek in mind. So sticking to strict rules and facing heavy punishment if one violates those rules had been ingrained in the Taiwanese society until 1996. Since then Taiwan has been a democracy. Now one might label a political situation as a democracy, but that doesnít say this democracy is like an older, or more traditional democracy. In Taiwan, many people think a democracy means: Ďyou can do what you wantí. Keep in mind, further, that the rules are less strict than those in the autocratic period, and a social decline is the result. Let alone an ethical decline. If one defines ethics as Ďrules in oneís heartí, this definition doesnít count very often in the Taiwanese society. If one is used to strict obedience, using a freedom-principle is very difficult. And obeying rules, when sanctions are not severe, even appears to be ridiculous. Thatís why I find the situation in Taiwan more dangerous than in China. Over there, people face death penalty if they donít stick to the quarantine-rules. So itís more likely they actually will obey the rules. In other words, itís easier to control people with such a background in an autocratic way. Thatís why the SARS situation in Singapore was under control within a few weeks: Singapore is an autocratic society. According to me, Taiwan can only control the SARS situation if the people face severe punishment when violating the rules. While fighting SARS, the Taiwanese government still thinks according to a democratic ideal. That doesnít work yet. In Taiwan, respect is still based on fear. If that fear-ingredient is not part of rules, many people wonít follow this structure.

6. Taipei has a very high density-level. If Iím not mistaken, the second highest density-level in the world (New Delhi is number one). So the situation is not exactly like in Holland, England or France. SARS can break out like hell, if only a few people are not careful enough.

7. The WHO doesnít give Taiwan an observer-status because of China. In spite of the fact that Taiwan operates as an autonomic nation, China still considers Taiwan as a province. The WHO allows this political situation to interfere with medical responsibility. Believing, or at least accepting, Chinaís lies: ďWe are supervising the SARS situation in Taipei.Ē Ridiculous. There are no political connections between Taipei and Beijing. Another lie: ďWe send medical equipment to Taipei.Ē Nevertheless, because of this political interference thereís no direct link between the WHO and Taiwan, which so far has cost the lives of Taiwanese people.

The seven things above are what I think about, if I face the situation in Taiwan. My conclusion is, that fighting SARS in Taiwan is extremely difficult because of the countryís background and because of the WHOís mentality. As a result, more people have died and more people will die than in another society. Speaking frankly, I think whether weíll have a 100 km race in Taiwan or not, is totally unimportant. I think the survival of the Taiwanese people has absolute priority. Now there might be a chance to organize World 100K Championships in Taiwan this autumn. But from my very perspective, the SARS situation in Taiwan is too slippery to think about major sports-events this year.

Dirk Westerduin, Taiwan 

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