The threat that emerging infectious diseases pose to global health and economy never ceases. As of March 2021, a novel form of pneumonia that first emerged in Wuhan, China, in 2019, and is classified as coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), has caused more than 150 million cases and more than 3.1 million deaths worldwide. Shih Chung Chen specially for The Indian Express.
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 was 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 what the global public perception suggested. Authorities used this information to launch enhanced monitoring in December 2019, and have tirelessly implemented public health containment measures since Taiwan’s first case was detected in January 2020. As of April 30, 2021, there had been 1,128 confirmed cases, including 12 deaths, in Taiwan. Life and work have continued much as normal for the majority of the population.
After dealing with SARS, Taiwan established a nationwide infectious disease healthcare network, which provides the legal authority for transferring patients with highly contagious diseases to designated facilities. This has helped protect health systems and health professionals from being overwhelmed, and allowed most non-Covid-19 health services to continue.
By acting early and effectively, Taiwan 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. 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 also maintains 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 prioritising the protection of disadvantaged groups, including migrant workers. Throughout, Taiwan has emphasised the right to health and associated protections and strong opposition to human rights abuses.
Covid-19’s 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 containment measures. 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.
Taiwan’s response to Covid-19 has been one of the world’s success stories. It has proven yet again that Taiwan cannot remain outside 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 Covid-19. 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 acknowledge Taiwan’s longstanding contributions to the international community in public health, disease prevention, and the human right to health, and 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 all enjoy 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.
This column first appeared in the print edition on May 7, 2021 under the title ‘The Taiwan model’. The writer is minister of health and welfare, Republic of China (Taiwan).