WHO China Envoy
Patricia Doyle grew up in New York City and attended Columbia University, earning her doctorate in Public Health in 1992. After working for a series of non-profit organizations, Mrs. Doyle joined the WHO in 1999.
. When did you go to China in response to SARS?
Actually it wasn’t SARS that initially led our team to China, it was reports of avian flu in Hong Kong. Health authorities in Hong Kong alerted us of 2 cases of avian flu on February 20th, and the highly contagious nature of avian flu led us to activate the Global Pandemic Preparedness Plan to try to contain the outbreak. As part of our actions in implementing the plan, I was sent as part of a team to Southeast Asia. Because Guangdong province is so close geographically to Hong Kong, we decided to try to go there and make preparations in case of an outbreak there. But the Chinese authorities wouldn’t even let us into the province.
. Why do you think the WHO team was barred from entering Guangdong province?
In my mind, there is no question that the Chinese authorities didn’t want the rest of the world to know the severity of the SARS outbreak. We were there to help, why else would they keep us out? We’d heard reports of an atypical flu, but as long as the outbreak was contained in China, the authorities could keep a lid on it. It was only after SARS spread outside China and there was no way the disease and its origins could be kept a secret that the Chinese authorities began to cooperate with the WHO.