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After SARS

An article from the Wall Street Journal on an aspect of SARS not much discussed: its aftermath.

Doctors count Chu Thi Phuong among the fortunate.

On March 28, the 42-year-old Vietnamese office cleaner and mother of three was discharged from a Hanoi hospital. She had survived SARS...

[S]he and her family are confronting the stigma of a disease with no clear scientific origin and no proven cure. "Sometimes I go out and the local kids see me and hold their noses," Ms. Phuong said...

Her nine-year-old son has trouble finding after-school playmates. Her four-year-old son was banished to an outdoor courtyard by a fearful day-care worker. Even Ms. Phuong's closest friends are keeping their distance...

For Ms. Phuong, the emotional pain will soon be compounded by financial hardship. At month's end she will lose her $100-a-month salary at Gilwood Co. Ltd., a New York garment company, which confirms that it is relocating its Hanoi office elsewhere in Vietnam because of SARS jitters. "I don't know what to do now," Ms. Phuong said...

Johnny Chen, an American merchandise manager from Gilwood's Shanghai office, came to town on Sunday, Feb. 23, after a short stay at the Metropole Hotel in Hong Kong. The hotel was later pinpointed by the World Health Organizations as a center for infection after a doctor who had treated SARS in southern China stayed there and spread the virus to other guests...

Wednesday morning, Feb. 26, another Gilwood employee told her Mr. Chen was ill. Ms. Phuong went out to get him some hot rice porridge and an extra blanket. Gilwood colleagues returned to the office later in the day and found Mr. Chen sprawled in the bedroom with a raging fever. Ms. Phuong helped bring Mr. Chen to the Hanoi French Hospital, the lone international hospital here in Vietnam's capital.

At first, Ms. Phuong visited Mr. Chen's bedside each day. "He was a stranger here," she said. "I'm a maid at the company, so I had to take some responsibility."

Ms. Phuong made him fresh orange juice, fed him some meals and whisked away his dirty clothes; she even paid his laundry bills. When Mr. Chen's condition became critical, she made a list of his possessions, which included $2,400 in cash, two cameras, a portable music player and a mobile phone.

Five days into this vigil, she began feeling sick herself.

After three visits to hospitals, Phuong was finally recognized as a SARS case and admitted. As she slowly recovered, she learned that Chen had died in Hong Kong. Finally she was able to return home, but there was no job awaiting her:

After Mr. Chen's affiliation with Gilwood became known, Gilwood's Vietnamese suppliers were afraid to do business at the firm's Hanoi office. Gilwood decided to relocate in Hung Yen province, more than 40 miles from Hanoi, where a contractor is churning out jeans...

She pities her nine-year-old boy's loneliness, now that his friends won't say they won't let him play at their houses after school...

Her medical bills total eight million dong, or $520, a sum equivalent to five months' salary at her Gilwood job. Gilwood agreed to pick up that tab, but that hasn't eased her worries about finding a new job.

I hope that, with the publicity from this story, Gilwood comes to realize that this woman became sick almost certainly because of her care -- which went far beyond the job description of a maid -- for one of its employees. Paying her medical bills is a good start, but to leave her jobless seems cruel. They should offer to relocate Phuong and her family to their new factory location, or at a minimum give her a generous severance package. A small amount of money by American standards could make a huge difference in this woman's life.

Is this the sort of social stigma that will face recovered SARS patients elsewhere in the world, including in developed countries?

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Comments

I thank God that Ms. Phuong has survived SARS, and I am ashamed for the people who treat her and her family so poorly. Ms. Phuong should be held up as an example of hope that it IS possible to survive SARS, and she should certainly be interviewed as to exactly what she did to get through that disease.

In Christ Jesus,
Christine
British Columbia, Canada

I can't remeber that how many times I read this newspaper but I still something unclear about this matter as following:
- What about other employees??? May be they are affected why it's not mentioned here
- SARS comes to Gilwood by accidently. Mr Johnny who carried virut from Hong Kong didnot know what happen with him and others. SO IT"S NOT GILWOOD MISTAKE. IT"S JUST UNLUCKY.
- Ms Phuong will be jobless at the end of this month but Gilwood relocate in new place, what about other employees? They are also jobless??

Lisa
UK

Lisa, the focus of the article was on Phuong and the aftermath of her SARS infection. The article didn't mention what, if anything, happened to other Gilwood employees other than Chen.

Was Phuong's infection Gilwood's fault? Absolutely not. But the fact that she went far beyond the call of duty in caring for Chen leads me to the opinion that it would be a matter of simple compassion and fairness for Gilwood to continue to assist Phuong.

Did the other Gilwood employees in Hanoi lose their jobs when they moved their plant? Most probably. Again, my focus is on Phuong. It is one thing to lose their job -- it happens to most of us at one time or another. It is another thing to lose your job because of a lethal disease that you contracted while caring for a fellow employee who contracted it while on company business. I believe Gilwood owes a greater debt to Phuong than to its other Hanoi employees.

Frank,

It's not a debt, OK?. It's good behavior among us, human being. And her care to Johnny is normal help when he is strange there. I read other newspapers about Gilwood and know that there are some more people in Vietnam Office help him, not only Phuong??? Why you put the focus on Ms Phuong, not other employees???? Don't be sured anything if you don't know how many Gilwood's employees were affected and may be they are poorer than Phuong.
Pls. help us clear. Don't give this mistake to anyone. Nobody has responsibility for SARS
Lisa
UK

Lisa,
I think that you're misunderstanding what Frank is saying. Ms Phuong is to be commended for her concern for others--not blamed. She should be treated with special care and attention for displaying the compassion and kindness that is so often lacking in our world. This is not to say that other Gilwood employees do not deserve similar care, but to ignore the needs of a woman who has so clearly done her duty as a human being, who has gone above and beyond the call of duty of her job, is criminal. Frank is supporting Ms Phuong, not condemning her. He is not ignoring the needs of her colleagues who may have been similarly kind and considerate. He is not blaming anyone for the spread of SARS. On the contrary, he is asking for OUR compassion and kindness.

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