A ceremony was held in Hanoi on April 11 to commemorate Dr. Carlo Urbani, an Italian doctor who devoted his life to fight against SARS in Vietnam , who died 10 years ago.

The event was co-organised by the Health Ministry, the World Health Organisation and the Italian Embassy.

Urbani ( born October 19, 1956), a WHO expert on communicable diseases, had worked in public health programmes in Vietnam since 2000.

He was the first to identify severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) as a new and dangerously contagious disease. Although he himself become infected and died , his early warning to the WHO triggered a massive response that probably helped save the lives of millions of people around the world.

In late February, 2003, Urbani was called to the French Hospital of Hanoi to examine Johnny Chen, an American businessman who had fallen ill with what doctors thought was a severe case of influenza.

The doctor realised that Chen did not have flu, but probably a new and highly contagious disease. He immediately notified the WHO, prompting the most effective response to a major epidemic in history. He also persuaded the Vietnamese Health Ministry to isolate patients and screen travellers, therefore slowing down the initial pace of the epidemic.

However, he died in Hanoi treating patients with SARS, contracting the virus himself. After 18 days in intensive care, Urbani passed away on March 29, 2003.

At the ceremony, Deputy Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long praised the doctor who had devoted his life to save the lives of patients.

He recounted that Vietnam had 63 cases of the virus, of which 37 were doctors, nurses and health workers who directly took care of SARS patients.

Although the outbreak was controlled, Urbani and five Vietnamese doctors and nurses died during the combat, he said.
Long expressed his hope that the WHO will continue to stand side by side with Vietnam in the fight against diseases, especially avian influenza H7N9.-VNA