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Transparent information release of health agencies important: CDC director

Thomas Frieden, the director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S., stressed the importance of timely and transparent information release when dealing with health emergencies during the Global Health Security Agenda Forum in Seoul on Monday.

“The CDC is one of the most trusted organizations in the country,” he told reporters. “And that’s because people know we are going to tell the truth even if it’s going to make them feel uncomfortable. They know that we will provide all the information to the media if there is an emergency.”

The forum was held about a month after South Korea announced its de facto end to Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak, which claimed 36 lives here. 
Thomas Frieden speaks during a press conference in Seoul on Monday. (Ministry of Health and Welfare)
Thomas Frieden speaks during a press conference in Seoul on Monday. (Ministry of Health and Welfare)

The Korean government had been heavily criticized for its early handling of the outbreak, especially for refusing to share the list of MERS-affected hospitals for more than two weeks after the index case was confirmed in May.

Frieden shared his experience dealing with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which infected two nurses in the U.S. last year. He confessed that there was a loss of confidence in the CDC when the two nurses contracted the deadly virus, but said the agency still followed its first principle -- which is to be honest, open and forthright -- during the crisis. The nurses eventually recovered.

“We don’t think we have all of the answers,” he said. “But we have an approach. That approach was to use science to improve the response continuously. So when the two nurses became infected we changed our guidelines to better protect health care workers.”

Also as part of its post-MERS plan, Seoul announced that it would appoint the head of Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention as the Health Ministry’s joint vice minister to strengthen the public health sector.

However, the decision has been criticized by the nation’s medical doctors who claim that the Korea CDC cannot enjoy full independence as long as it stays as a part of the Health Ministry. Doctors have been asking for the Korea CDC to be allowed to become an agency on its own.

“I think each country will have to come up with its own solution for what’s the best organization for its public health system,” Frieden said.

“But it’s important that the institution be close enough to the rest of the government so the government trusts it. But far enough from the rest of the government so the population trusts it. And that’s a delicate balancing act.”

By Claire Lee (