Bioethics Blogs

Remedies for South Korea: Stopping MERS Before it Starts August 11, 2015 Although the respon…

August 11, 2015

by Seunghye Chai, Bioethics Program Student

On May 20, 2014, an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) was reported in South Korea. The outbreak was the largest to date outside the Middle East. South Korea’s governmental response was harshly criticized due to passive intervention and lack of a timely response. These criticisms arose because MERS is not a new disease. According to a report from the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare, “there have been a total of 1154 patients with MERS confirmed in 24 countries, including Saudi Arabia, 471 of which have died, after the first report of [MERS] breakout [in Saudi Arabia] in September 2012. Most of those patients were from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the others mainly involved cases of the infection while traveling in Saudi Arabia.”

Keiji Fukuda, a World Health Organization official, identified several factors contributing to the extent of the outbreak when he visited South Korea:

●   South Korean doctors’ unfamiliarity with MERS;

●   The country’s “overcrowded” emergency rooms;

●   The practice of “doctor shopping” for care at many different clinics; and

●   The fact that hospital rooms tend to be bustling with visitors.

It’s no surprise that nearly all of the country’s confirmed MERS patients were infected while seeking care or visiting patients at hospitals. There were several clinicians who were infected as well.

Many of the factors Fukuda identified will be difficult to change because they are cultural or beyond the control of public health officials.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.