China’s SARS whistleblower denied ‘Asia’s Nobel Prize’ acceptance

MANILA, Agencies

A former military doctor who blew the whistle on China’s SARS coverup has been prevented from travelling to the Philippines to receive Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize, officials said Thursday.

Chinese authorities refused to grant 72-year-old Jiang Yanyong travel papers and he will be represented at the ceremony on Tuesday by his brother, a spokeswoman for the Ramon Magsaysay international award foundation said.

The award, considered Asia’s most prestigious prize, was named after the Philippines’ most popular president, who died in a plane crash in 1957.

In the award citation, the foundation said that “in 2003, as the virus called severe acute respiratory syndrome swept unacknowledged into Beijing, he (Jiang) broke China’s habit of silence and forced the truth of SARS into the open.” Jiang was already retired in early 2003 when SARS began to spread from its original habitat in Guangdong province to Hong Kong and beyond, it said.

Through contacts in Beijing hospitals, he learned of the alarming number of SARS cases and deaths in the capital. Yet, as the threat of an epidemic mounted, Beijing hospital officials were warned not to speak about it for fear of disturbing important national meetings. Jiang wrote to the press, revealing the true figures, “and at great risk, signed his name. Other Chinese doctors and the World Health Organization corroborated his revelations and the news spread around the world,” helping to contain a global epidemic.

“A small dose of truth can sometimes make all the difference, especially in societies where speaking out is not the norm,” it added.

Jiang is one of the seven recipients this year of the annual award, which will be handed by President Gloria Arroyo.