I’m usually quick to point out that one of the best things about life in South Korea is the single-payer health care system. It isn’t free, but everybody pays a percentage of her monthly salary into the government system and it works very well for everybody. (I pay about 50 USD a month myself.)
That said, the MERS outbreak last year was pretty much a fuster-cluck on the part of South Korean health care officials:
“The public health and safety agency also took advice from domestic experts twice but did not prepare any response system for MERS, the audit agency said.
When it first received a report from a district health center that there was a suspected MERS patient, it did not conduct an inspection for about 34 hours. Even when the KCDC found out through CCTV footage that the patient had contact with many people outside his hospital room, it still only quarantined his room, the audit outcome showed.
The government’s belated disclosure of information on hospitals and other places visited by the MERS patients aggravated the situation.
Samsung Medical Center in southern Seoul did not promptly cooperate with the authorities to provide information on the people who were in contact with one of its MERS patients, which also delayed quarantine measures, the state audit agency said.
One thing I don’t like about South Korea is the tendency of people to have very cavalier attitudes towards public safety, ranging from red lights being more “suggestions” than hard facts, or a medical quarantine being flaunted. (By definition, if people are breaking quarantine then you have the opposite of a quarantine.)
So anyhow, I was right. You can have good doctors and hospitals but if people don’t follow basic disease protocols you’re back at square one when dealing with an outbreak. All the scientific know-how in the world isn’t going to make up for bad public health habits.
Then again, MERS is gone and credit is owed for that. The question is, could it have been stopped sooner? I’d guess that yeah, probably it could have.