Building a resilient and inclusive global health system together

Dr. Shih-chung Chen is the Minister of Health and Welfare of Taiwan. (Contributed photo)

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

The threat that emerging infectious diseases pose to global health and the
economy, trade, and tourism never ceases. Pandemics can spread rapidly
around the world due to international aviation and transport. As of March
2021, 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) has caused more than 126 million cases and more than 2.7
million deaths worldwide. The disease has had an enormous medical,
economic, and social impact around the world, and significantly
threatened global efforts to achieve the United Nations Sustainable
Development Goals.

Due to its proximity to China, Taiwan had been expected to be one of the
countries most severely affected by the epidemic. But given its
experience of fighting the 2003 SARS outbreak, Taiwan did not ignore
the alarms, piecing together evolving official and unofficial accounts to
form a picture of the emerging disease that implied a scope and severity
worse than the global public perception suggested. Authorities used this
information to launch enhanced monitoring on December 31, 2019, and
have tirelessly implemented public health containment measures since
Taiwan’s first case was detected on January 21, 2020. As of April 22,
2021, there had been 1,086 confirmed cases, including 11 deaths, in
Taiwan. Life and work have continued much as normal for the majority of the population. Taiwan has contained COVID-19 ever since the
beginning of the pandemic, including a record 253 days without any
cases of domestic transmission between April and December 2020.

After dealing with SARS, Taiwan established a nationwide infectious
disease healthcare network that is led and overseen by infectious disease
experts across six regions. 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 have been only two
hospital-associated COVID-19 outbreaks in Taiwan. Both were well
managed resulting in a total of 11 cases and zero death of health

By introducing public health control measures early and effectively,
Taiwan has also mitigated the economic impact of COVID-19. To
maintain essential international, social, economic, and trade activities,
Taiwan implemented flexible adjustments for related quarantine measures
for vessels and aircraft so that fisheries, offshore wind farms, and air
transport industries could continue operations. In stark contrast with the
global economic contraction, Taiwan’s GDP growth for 2020 was
approximately 3.11 percent, with an even higher growth of 4.94 percent in
the fourth quarter. Furthermore, public trust and cooperation with the
government’s response have been key to successfully containing COVID-19. In formulating disease control regulations, the government has
adhered to the principles of reasonable response, minimum damage, and
gradual adoption. It has worked hard to maintain the balance between
people’s right to know and personal privacy and freedom, actively
responding to people’s wishes by upholding the principle of fairness at
the same time as prioritizing the protection of disadvantaged groups,
including migrant workers. Throughout this pandemic, Taiwan has
demonstrated an emphasis on the right to health and associated
protections and strong opposition to human rights abuses. Indeed, at no
point has Taiwan restricted people’s right to free expression, assembly, or
participation in public life.

Although COVID-19 has hit all countries hard, its impact has been
harshest among already vulnerable and high-risk communities, as well as
those lacking quality health care services and those unable to handle the
adverse consequences of anti-pandemic containment measures. As a
responsible member of the international community, Taiwan will do its
utmost to work with the World Health Organization and global health
leaders to ensure that all people enjoy living and working conditions that
are conducive to good health. We will also monitor health inequities to
advocate more effectively for universal access to quality health services.

Thanks to its robust health system, rigorous testing strategies, information
transparency, and public-private partnerships, Taiwan’s response to
COVID-19 has been one of the world’s success stories. This pandemic
has proven yet again that Taiwan cannot remain outside of the global
health network. Taiwan plays an indispensable role in the global
monitoring and early warning systems that detect the threat of emerging
infectious diseases, and the Taiwan Model has proven consistently capable of containing.

(Dr. Shih-chung Chen is the Minister of Health and Welfare of Taiwan)