As the coronavirus epidemic spreads rapidly around the world, Taiwan manages to drastically contain its spread over an island territory barely larger than Belgium and populated by more than 23 million inhabitants. Despite its close economic and trade ties with nearby China, as of March 22, 2020, Taiwan had 195 cases and two deaths, much lower infection and fatality per capita than those seen in the rest of the world.
However, the country is still excluded from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Yet, the Taiwanese government alerted WHO on December 31, 2019 not only of the emergence of the virus but also and above all of the possibility of human-to-human transmission. It has been able to anticipate the epidemic and maintain its execution capability for both health and economic policies. While many countries around the world have ordered their populations to remain confined, life in Taiwan goes on almost normally: universities, high schools and schools remain open, businesses continue to operate, people move freely.
Following the first case of coronavirus on its soil on January 23, Taiwan immediately implemented an epidemic crisis management system to prevent the spread of the virus. This device was designed and implemented after the traumatic experience of SARS on the island in 2003.
The next day, the export of masks was banned, 14-day return visitors to China subject to customs control, Taiwanese from the worst affected areas to 14 days of confinement, and all new arrivals on continuous health monitoring. Medical personnel are not allowed to leave the country. 13 million masks are available for the population every day; production quadrupled within a month.
To date, Taiwan remains unique in the world to centralize all decisions within a unified and cross-sectoral command, the Ministry of Health and Welfare. It alone coordinates the measures applicable to customs, the economy, education and transport. This centralization is at the heart of effective management of the epidemic.
Taiwan quickly set up its health system on the entire contamination chain: alert to travelers, tracing people, confinement during incubation, quarantine, dedicated queues, distribution of masks and hydroalcoholic products … Taiwanese researchers have isolated viral strains and synthesized the antiviral remdesivir, and are currently developing screening in just 15 minutes.
Regular disclosure of detailed information continues to play an important role in building public awareness and avoiding the spread of false information and rumors that can cause panic.
Taiwan thus demonstrates its expertise in medical research and prevention along with the quality of its healthcare system, the 9th best in the world (annual Bloomberg ranking of healthcare efficiency for 2018). Taiwan is a major and essential player in global health. However, the country was not invited to participate in WHO’s next annual session, scheduled to take place from May 17 to 21 in Geneva.
To exclude Taiwan from this very important meeting, especially in the exceptional situation we are experiencing, is a critical mistake. This calls into question global health security and that of Taiwan, because health issues ignore borders as this pandemic reminds us.
Taiwan deserves to have its place in all WHO activities. It has a specific role to play in strengthening health systems worldwide, one of the main targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and henceforth in the fight against the coronavirus.
We, citizens, health officials, researchers, academics and parliamentarians from all backgrounds, declare that WHO must pay attention and refrain from any political game, diplomatic influences and to abide by its primary vocation, that of protecting as well as possible, the health of everyone on a global scale.
WHO needs Taiwan, just like Taiwan needs WHO.
This is why we urge the World Health Organization to be up to date with current health challenges by allowing Taiwan to participate in its next assembly, in its other meetings and more broadly in all of its activities.
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