By Jung Min-ho
Was it pride or procedural necessity?
The Korea Times first reported the World Health Organization’s (WHO) plan to send a team to Korea over the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) epidemic, Tuesday.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare then vehemently denied it.
A ministry official said Thursday that the government “has absolutely no plan” to seek outside help and was capable of dealing with the epidemic on its own.
However, on Friday the ministry issued a news release about a WHO team coming, adding an interesting twist by saying the international body will join it to assess the situation.
Sources forewarned that the ministry is quite opposed to having the U.N. organization’s team here.
One speculated that ministry officials are too proud to be seen accepting outside help.
It could be a matter of medical sovereignty.
Or, he said, that they were afraid to expose to third-party scrutiny how “screwed up” their response had been.
He said the WHO was upset because the government delayed its final go-ahead for its mission’s visit.
The ministry is now saying it has decided to work with the WHO to dispel global concerns about the infectious disease.
This comes at the cost of its confidence in containing the virus, saying that the current frenzy over MERS is “exaggerated.”
With four people dead and 41 cases confirmed, their assessment of the situation sounds rather naively optimistic.
The WHO team will be led by Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general for health security.
Ji Young-mi, head of the immunopathology center under the ministry, said the officials’ job is expected to focus mainly on preventing the virus from spreading further.
“It is also possible that the officials will work with the ministry to develop MERS cures,” she said.
Some experts say that the WHO may start all over again by genetically sequencing the virus found in Korea, a step that is vital to slowing the progression of the disease and ultimately developing drugs to treat it.