Dr. Shih-chung Chen
Minister of Health and Welfare
Republic of China (Taiwan)
The threat that emerging infectious diseases poses to global health and the economy, trade, and tourism never ceases. Up until April 2021, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has caused more than 150 million cases and more than 3.16 million deaths worldwide. The disease caused enormous medical, economic, and social impacts around the world, and significantly threatened global efforts to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) .
Taiwan had been expected to be one of the countries that might be severely affected by the epidemic due to the proximity to China. However, given the past experience of fighting SARS outbreak in 2003, Taiwan was able to piece together various information to foresee a picture that implied the scope and severity of this pandemic might be much worse than the global society perceived. Authorities thus launched heightened monitoring on December 31, 2019, and have tirelessly implemented public health containment measures. In contrast to the global economic recession, Taiwan’s GDP growth for 2020 was approximately 3.11%, with even higher growth of 4.94% in the fourth quarter.
Public trust and comprehensive cooperation with the government’s measurements have certainly been a crucial element in Taiwan’s practices in containment of COVID-19. The government of Taiwan has worked hard to maintain the balance between people’s right and effective intervention to safeguard public health. Under the pandemic, Taiwan has demonstrated an emphasis on the right to health, the fairness of people and the protection of minority groups as well as strong opposition to human rights violations. The effort to secure both freedom and safety of people by the Taiwan government hast thus gained public trust and understanding in complying with all COVID-19 countermeasures.
Recently, many countries have suffered from the fast-spreading variants of COVID-19 virus, which have triggered the latest wave of transmission immediately. Meanwhile, the dramatic rise in the number of confirmed cases has also laid a growing burden on the healthcare system to many countries. The influx of infected people has challenged the capacity of hospitals and caused shortage of wards. Medical supplies and intensive care units are tested to their limits on a daily basis. As a reliable partner-in-waiting to the global health system, Taiwan would like to share with the world a valuable lesson acquired from past experience. After dealing with SARS pandemic, Taiwan established a nationwide infectious disease healthcare network that is led and overseen by related experts across six regions of the country. More than 100 secondary response hospitals are included in the network and all twenty-two special municipalities, counties and cities have designated their primary response hospitals. The network also provides the legal authority for transferring patients with highly contagious diseases to designated facilities based on public health and clinical need.
This has proven instrumental in protecting health systems and health professionals from being overwhelmed, and allowed most non-COVID-19 health services to continue to operate without disruption during the pandemic. To date, there is zero death of health professionals related to hospital outbreaks of COVID-19.
This pandemic has proven yet again that Taiwan cannot be ruled out of the global health network. The pandemic has also called for Taiwan’s capacity to research, develop, produce, and supply therapies and associated tools (including two COVID-19 vaccines that are presently in Phase 2 trials). Being able to comprehensively participate in and contribute to international COVID-19 supply chain systems, as well as global diagnostics, vaccine, and therapeutics platforms, would allow Taiwan to work with the rest of the world.
We urge WHO and related parties to include Taiwan in WHO and its meetings, mechanisms, and activities. Taiwan will continue to work with the rest of the world to ensure that every person enjoys the fundamental human right to health as stipulated in the WHO Constitution. Echoing the mantra of the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, no one should be left behind.