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NY Times: Taiwan nurses, bearing brunt of SARS risk and burden with little support, quit "en masse"

May 21, 2003 -- A story by Donald G. McNeil Jr. in today's New York Times describes the resignations of Taiwan health workers in the face of the accelerating SARS epidemic, exploring the special pressures faced by nurses, who spend far more time with infected patients and must observe strict precautions, yet receive little support from their society or their families, who pressure them to quit to avoid the risk of infection.

The piece notes that more hospitals are reporting outbreaks, hundreds of health care workers remain in quarantine, and many of them still do not view existing infection control measures to be adequate. While the article reports that nurses in particular have resigned, it is careful to explain why. The head of the Taipei City Nurses Association, Kuo Chin-ying, notes that nurses have very low status and earn one tenth of what physicians do, yet they receive far less of the SARS "danger pay" offered by desperate hospitals--even though they spend far more time with patients and must work entire shifts in virtual isolation wards, with restrictive clothing that makes it "all but impossible to eat safely." Many nurses also face tremendous pressure to quit from their families, especially the in-laws with whom many live, who fear they will bring the disease home. Some families have reportedly had nurses kidnapped from their hospitals to make them stop working. Meanwhile, the nurses' children experience discrimination at school. The government's response to the nurses has reportedly been "a mix of blandishments and threats."

Click here to see the New York Times Article.