Opinion: Global Health Security Needs Taiwan’s Participation

An image posted on social media shows Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen speaking at Central Epidemic Command Center on April 2, 2020. Image: iingwen / Twitter.

By Dr. Chen Shih-chung, Taiwan’s Minister of Health and Welfare

The threat of emerging infectious diseases to global health, economy, and tourism has never precluded. A novel form of pneumonia that first emerged in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019 and has since been classified as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

3.86 million people had been confirmed patients, with 270,000 deaths in 200 countries/areas/territories. Thailand could not be spared, either. Crisis first loomed as supply shortage of face mask at the beginning of March, 2020. Most Thai people perceived that the price of face masks went skyrocketing in this country.

With the condition deteriorated, Thai government declared the Emergency Decree and introduced essential measures to combat COVID-19. Up to May 8, there has been 3,000 confirmed cases with 55 deaths in Thailand. Currently, the containment of the COVID-19 pandemic remains a major challenge to the Department of Public Health so far.

However, Taiwan has been in a state of constant readiness to the threat of emerging infectious disease ever since the SARS outbreak. When signs concerning a novel pneumonia outbreak first appeared on December 31, 2019, Taiwan began implementing onboard quarantine of direct flights from Wuhan that same day.

How Taiwan Contains the Outbreak

On January 2, 2020, Taiwan established a response team for the disease and activated the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) to effectively integrate resources from various ministries and invest itself fully in the containment of the epidemic.

Since then, Taiwan has implemented dynamic plans concerning border quarantine measures, including onboard quarantine, fever screening, health declarations, and a 14-day home quarantine for passengers from any Level 3 Warning nations.

A photo of Dr. Chen Shih-chung, Minister of Health and Welfare.

Moreover, Taiwan has established an electronic system for entry quarantine, which allows passengers with local mobile numbers to fill in health information via internet.

A health declaration pass will then be sent to them through text messages. This is connected to the community care support management system, which allows government agencies to provide care services and medical assistance.

Individuals’ travel history is now stored on the National Health Insurance (NHI) card to alert physicians any possible case so that community transmission could be prevented. For those undergoing home quarantine or isolation, the government is working with telecom operators to allow GPS tracking of their locations.

Whoever offends quarantine regulations are subject to fines or mandatory placement so as to prevent further transmission.

Taiwan Stands With Thailand

Global health security requires the efforts of every country to ensure an optimal response to public health threats. Taiwan, though not a member of WHO, cannot stand alone and must be included in such fight against threats.

Since necessary measures were adopted properly, Taiwan ranked 123rd among 183 countries in terms of confirmed cases per million people despite the proximity to China. This has shown that Taiwan’s aggressive efforts to control the epidemic are working.

Thus, Taiwan has continued to seek cooperation chances with Thailand steadily. Recently, Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Thailand held several online seminars with medical facilities or research departments, such as Chi Mei Hospital, Changhua Christian Hospital, NHRI, IBMI, MIC, etc., in hopes to share with Thai authorities and general public about Taiwan’s experience in fighting COVID-19.

An image posted on social media shows Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen visiting a health screening checkpoint in Taiwan. Image: iingwen / Twitter.

Moreover, Taiwanese entrepreneurs in Thailand have worked together with TECO establishing a Joint Emergency Response Team(JERT) which had donated medical masks and other supplies to Samut Prakan Province, Pattaya City, Ramathibodi Hospital and so on. These voluntary acts are in response to Taiwanese government’s campaign call of “Taiwan Can Help”.

As Thailand is an important partner of Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy, Deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Hsu-Szu-Chien donated 200,000 medical masks to the Thai Representative to Taiwan, Mr. Thongchai Chasawath, to foster collaboration on disease prevention between two countries.

In exchange, Thai representative expressed appreciation for the Taiwanese government and people. The abovementioned deeds are Taiwan’s acts of expressing love and care to Thai people during the COVID-19 pandemic, which echo the government’s campaign slogan: “Taiwan Is Helping”.

The World Can Also Help Taiwan

Taiwan has fulfilled its responsibilities as a global citizen and abided by the International Health Regulations 2005 (IHR 2005) in notifying WHO of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Moreover, Taiwan has communicated with countries such as Japan, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, the United States, Canada, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and the Netherlands, as well as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, to share information on confirmed cases, travel and contact histories of patients, and border control measures.

Taiwan has worked with international partners in the fight against COVID-19 to ensure that global health is not imperiled for lack of communication and transparency.

If it is indeed WHO’s mission to ensure the highest attainable standard of health for every human being, then WHO needs Taiwan just as Taiwan needs WHO.

An image posted on social media to encourage hygiene and social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic on May 4, 2020, by Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen. Image: iingwen / Twitter.

Yet Taiwan has long been excluded from WHO due to political considerations. This has been regrettable given that Taiwan could share with the world about its renowned public health system(NHI), and the ability to carry out rapid testing, do research and manufacture vaccines and drugs against COVID-19.

We hope that after this pandemic abates, WHO will truly understand that infectious diseases know no borders, and that no country should be excluded. WHO should not neglect any contribution from any nation.

We urge WHO and related parties to acknowledge Taiwan’s longstanding contributions to the international community in the areas of public health, disease prevention, and the human right to health. And we also urge WHO to include Taiwan in its meetings, mechanisms, and activities.

Taiwan will continue to work with the rest of the world to ensure that all human beings enjoy the fundamental human right to health as WHO Constitution stipulated.

About the author
Dr. Chen Shih-chung has been serving as the Minister of Health and Welfare of the Republic of China (Taiwan) since 2017.