Lack of Transparency in Korean MERS Response Causes Outrage

Article from Yonhap: [June 3, 2015]

Dispute over ‘MERS Hospital’ Disclosure – ‘The Right to Know’ vs ‘Grave Consequences’

Anticipation for a change in government response as ruling party demands reexamination.

A debate is erupting over whether to publicly release the list of hospitals that treated patients diagnosed with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Although the government is adhering to their non-disclosure stance, even members of the ruling party, along with the opposition party and groups of citizens, are demanding a release of information, creating anticipation for a change in the government’s course of action.

Since last weekend, when people began being diagnosed with MERS in rapid succession, there has been a public outcry demanding a list of hospitals where MERS patients were diagnosed or treated be made public. A list of hospitals whose status has not been verified is circulating through the internet and social media.

Despite much of the false rumors out there, it is possible to find some relatively accurate lists compiling hospitals that treated MERS patients.

Civil society organizations and the opposition party have been advocating for transparency regarding MERS treatment centers. They argue that it is the people’s right to know and [more transparency] will prevent unnecessary concern.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers repeatedly pressed for the publication of a list of regions and hospitals where MERS patients are confirmed in its June 3rd statement.

The union claimed that, “The solution to MERS is openness, not secrecy”, adding that the reason that the so-called MERS ghost story has run rampant is because the government is losing the public’s trust as it refuses to publish information.

Congressmen from the New Politics Alliance for Democracy’s Committee on Health and Welfare demanded disclosure of the medical institutions that treated patients with MERS.

Even today, the government adhered to its policy of keeping the information classified.

The government defended its line, saying that if it revealed the affected regions and hospitals, it would foster fear and chaos among other patients, health professionals, and local citizens. Hospitals would be unnecessarily branded, causing patients to avoid affected hospitals that they normally visit and thus would cause inconvenience.

If the hospitals end up facing this type of situation, managers of those hospitals on which authorities rely on to report MERS cases may become more concerned with their loss of profits. Health officials fear that this could create a gap in long-term disease response.

Kwon Joon-wook, the Head of Planning and Management for the MERS Central Response Headquarters, said on May 31 that, “Even in developed countries like the United States, there aren’t many cases where the regions or hospitals that handle an infectious disease are publicly revealed.”

Kim Woo-joo, Joint Committee Head of the MERS Public and Private Joint Response Force and Chairman of the Board for the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases, pointed out on the same day at the Sejong Government Complex media briefing that, “As the names of perfectly safe hospitals who are diligently treating MERS patients, hospitals who have already been investigated, are divulged, the consequences of that public knowledge are considerably worrisome.”

Kim expanded on his concern, saying, “If we put hospitals that are altruistically treating MERS patients on the chopping block, especially considering they were not designated to provide such a response, then the private sector may pledge to not deal with such infectious diseases in the future.”

Considering that South Korea has even fewer public hospitals than the United States, whose health care system relies heavily on private hospitals, if the private sector stops treating an infectious disease, then a proper disease response becomes essentially impossible.

However, more and more people feel that given the fairly concrete list of hospitals already in circulation, maintaining the privacy policy is in fact just fostering terror.

One private hospital in Gyeonggi province falsely rumored to be a MERS hospital has threatened to take legal action. It claims that the policy of secrecy has invited misunderstandings.

What really has the public’s attention, however, are calls for openness from the President’s own Saenuri party, which may be the tipping point.

Today at a meeting of members of the Supreme Council and other prominent Saenuri Party lawmakers, Chairman Kim Moo-Sung, Floor Leader Yoo Seung-in, and others ranging from leadership to junior representatives, took a stand and ordered the administration to reevaluate the secrecy policy.

Comments from Naver:

elee****

Obviously we should know. Is this a joke?

yljh****

Isn’t disclosure a no-brainer? Do the hospitals come before the entirety of Korea’s population? Don’t we need to know the affected hospitals so we can avoid them and prevent MERS from spreading?

tndm****

If everyone in the country catches MERS and dies, what use are these lousy hospitals. LOL Korea’s doing really fucking well.

saed****

“If a country can’t protect its people, then it’s not a country. President Roh, who couldn’t protect one of our own, has no right to be president and I can’t forgive him.” These were President Park Guen-hye’s words at the time of the kidnapping and murder of Sun Il Kim by al-Qaeda. ——— The SARS Outbreak: With a rate of infection higher than MERS, only 4 infected and zero deaths. South Korea set a record at the time for the country with the lowest number of transmissions. The president who oversaw the crisis: Roh Moo-hyun. Minister of Health and Welfare: Ryu Si-min.

sete****

No matter what, handle this type of thing by the books.

love****

But still, thanks to the government’s strict control, I didn’t see a single camel in the street today~

sodl****

If they had released that list from the beginning, so many people could have gone about their lives instead of being quarantined… What could be so dreadful and frightening that they just keep concealing it… The scariest thing out there isn’t MERS but our government’s leader…

unfr****

Can you really not figure out whether hospitals or people come first?

ysh1****

Are the ‘grave consequences’ the hospitals’ profits? Half the population dying from MERS would mean an even worse decline in profits~

sowu****

This worthless government, killing citizens to save hospitals…

inma****

It’s the second Sewol Ferry Incident… don’t lift a finger, just stand back…just as water kept leaking into the boat, MERS will keep spreading… and the result???

pose****

Gahh hospitals come before people ^_^ It’s already like this now but when war breaks out it’s gonna be such a nightmare that I’m already getting goosebumps.

viol****

Aren’t there a lot of people who got infected in hospitals?? That’s why you need to tell us the hospital’s names! These morons~ How can you not grasp common sense?

pcy2****

South Korea, where a hospital’s profits are more important than the peoples’ lives…

dmsg****

For whose sake was the Ministry of Health and Welfare created?

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  • HaydenG

    Once again Koreans embarrass themselves by being dramatic panicked sheep completely controlled by the media.

    50 infections in over a month is not a problem, its not a big deal. especially when the disease is not deadly unless you are elderly or have a preexisting condition.

    Every time there is a tiny problem in this country people freak out like its the end of the world. I really don’t understand.

    • bumfromkorea

      Yes, when the Ebola “outbreak” happened in the US, it was only the Korean Americans who were freaking out.

      Idiot…

      • HaydenG

        nobody freaked out…
        no masks, no schools closing, life went on as normal, unlike Korea

    • chuckrobertpearson .

      Yes, the hysteria definitely doesn’t happen in other countries. Especially when there’s ebola. No one was worried about that.

      • HaydenG

        exactly, In other countries when the media attempts to fear monger about diseases like Ebola it doesn’t work. Americans didnt all start wearing masks or closing private schools. I dont understand why Koreans are so gullible.

  • sgthappyg

    This must be an outdated article. Other websites do have the list of hospitals.

    • Chucky3176

      They released all the information, after a huge public flack.

  • Penninsula

    Koreans have bad habits sneezing without closing there mouth. Using tissue cover there nose. Koreans smoke crazy, they use public road like there smoke ashtray. My point is Koreans lack of hygiene is serious health problems. Not washing hands with soap. People can get sick here 24 hours.

    • Sid Driver

      The not covering their mouth when they cough or sneeze is pretty gross. Even during meal times you can notice this. ㅠㅠ

    • expat korean

      Koreans are quite ignorant about hygiene. There is never any soap in the restrooms. But worse is that they wouldn’t know if there were soap becuz they #$%$ and never use soap and then share food. It’s a fact. Koreans cough and spread germs without caring about those around them. It’s really third world problem. This Mers will spread unless Koreans learn about hygiene. Sad but I doubt they will change overnight…

  • David

    Made me laugh “But still, thanks to the government’s strict control, I didn’t see a single camel in the street today~”

  • Hayde

    Thanks koreabang for bringing news from 10 years ago. I’m deleting this sitty website from Chrome.

    • poop

      Bye

  • commander

    One of the lessons the health authorities should learn for growing anxiety over a possible rapid spread of the MERS after fumbled responses to its outbreak is to provide the swift and accurate updates on the infections and measures taken to contain the virus.

    Identifying the names of hospitals and infected cases as such is not important. By offering information at regular intervals, convincing the public that the health officials and experts in close collaboration and consulatation do their utmost is critically important in stemming false rumor circulation and facilitating civilan cooperation, say, those who came into contact with confimed cases come forward to put themselves in isolation at quarnatine facilities prepared by the health authorities.

    Indeed, prompt and decivise responses are not an easy task, so it is necessary to acknolwedge, if any, blunders in handling the MERS in early stages.

    What matters is, however, to initiate comprehensive steps to to prevent the spread and display coordinated containment policy, accompanied by briefings at press conferences.

    What tuned out is the exact opposite. Health officials reportedly failed to make a list of suspected cases and keep track of them and put them in place. In the course of time, they didn’t provide progrss on how to cope with the deadly virus, fueling the baseless rumors online, and escalating the distrust in the government, which is mirrored in the recent approval rating survey for President Park, who witnessed a tumble to mid 30 percent.

    The lack of confident and cooordinated policy to bring the MERS under control is shown in the exchange of barbs between Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon and Health Minister Moo Hyung-poo, (who is actually not a public health expert, he is an economy expert with a doctoraye degree.)

    The mayor’s surprise press conference, accomapnied by the statement from Mr. Moon contradicting the Seoul city chief’s remarks, which is to compound confusion and worries among the public.

    A united front with which water tight containment is made against the disease, and the updates will be the best antidote to a panicked public.

  • suppertime

    A new case, a lady visited an acquaintance in the ER but was not on the quarantine list because she wasn’t a family member and was there briefly. Of course, when she started to get sick she went hospital shopping, 4-5 hospitals before being confined. Another lady, undocumented from China, was diagnosed then went on the run for fear of being deported.

    Never imagined a disease could be this contagious. I don’t think even colds and flus work this way, you get infected someone walks by you on the way into a hospital. And apparently extremely painful, with possibly lasting organ damage. If it gets out of control, we’ll hit 10,000 cases in 20 days or so. At that point, won’t be able to leave the country, treatment in a medical facility will not be available.

    Out and about, it’s business as usual, if people are worried they’re keeping it to themselves.

    • chucky3176

      Please stop spreading false rumors. This disease is not that infectious compared to others. The cases involved happened under hospital settings where they cough up a lot of infectious saliva onto hospital workers who then spread them to other patients that they cared for. All of the 7 deaths so far involved old hospital patients with serious respiratory problems. No one healthy and young died from it. Even if they had it, many of them are reporting that they don’t feel unusually sick. They say they can’t notice anything different from the common cold. Three people have been cured and released already, and four more are to be released today. This is after only one week of breakout. This is not a dangerous disease like Ebola or SARS, because it only seriously harms the old and the sick in the hospitals (for the sake of them, this disease needs to be stopped). The 40% death rate, as scary as it sounds, comes from Middle East where medical and health care treatments are not very good. In Korea almost 100 people have been diagnosed, yet only 7 have died, all of them sick and old. This is about only 7% death rate. Although there is no cure for MERS, S.Korean hospitals use medications and treatments that boosts the MERS patient’s immune systems to fight off the disease. They had good success with it, keeping the death rates down.

      My source that MERS is not even as bad as the regular flu, is here (those who had it, say it was not even as bad as the common flu).

      http://daily.hankooki.com/lpage/society/201506/dh20150608173452137780.htm

      • 금정산

        My thoughts exactly. So then why have 2,000 schools in 경기도 closed? Why the industrial-style disinfection of subway cars and the media hysteria? These aren’t rhetorical questions; I’m curious to know why you think Koreans react like this to a virus that isn’t really a big deal.

        • Chucky3176

          I wouldn’t say it’s not really a big deal, but several reasons why. First the government did a poor job communicating with the public regarding this disease. The public became so angry the government had to do something to show the public that they’re not just standing by and doing nothing as alleged. So it’s a political show. Second, this disease is a new disease, and the information on it is still being updated. For instance, through Korea’s experience, they found that the incubation period before symptoms appear, is long as up to 3 weeks, instead of one to two weeks as known before. So the Korean experiences are forcing WHO to rewrite the manuals on how to deal with this disease. Third, the MERS hit to Korea was a complete surprise and shock not just to the public, but also to the medical establishment and the government. They’d rather over-react on the safe side. Fourth, before Korea was hit, MERS cases in the Middle East had death rates were as high as 40% of those who got it, as well as the fact that MERS is related to the same Corona virus that causes SARS. Therefore it makes this disease sound like a very dangerous one, so it’s understandable why the country’s in a panic mode.

        • Chucky3176

          According to here,

          http://daily.hankooki.com/lpage/society/201506/dh20150610075525137780.htm

          Saudi Arabia took tens of thousands of random blood samples from their population, and found that 0.15% of their population or over (40,000) people were found to have had MERS and probably didn’t know they had it because they didn’t get sick seriously enough to tell them that they had MERS.

          However, Koreans are watching closely the one case of a healthy 38 year old doctor who got infected with MERS, who is now in very serious condition and is wearing an oxygen mask. He was a healthy man before the infection. However, since childhood, he has had chronic allergic rhinitis which made his breathing difficult, as well as signs of mild asthma leading to bouts of coughs. Could it be that even a slight respratory problem like this could make this disease a deadly one?

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