Tai­wan’s In­ter­na­tional Par­tic­i­pa­tion is Vi­tal to En­sur­ing Global Health Se­cu­rity

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL - By Dr. Tzou-yien Lin Min­is­ter of Health and Wel­fare Re­pub­lic of China (Tai­wan)

Ac­cord­ing to the WHO es­ti­mate re­leased on April 21, 2014, a to­tal of 774 lives were claimed in the SARS out­break in 2003. Far be­yond the na­tions where it claimed the most vic­tims, SARS trau­ma­tized the world with vast eco­nomic dis­rup­tions, deeply im­pact­ing in­ter­na­tional trade and travel that year and in the ner­vous months that fol­lowed.

Yet such threats are far from over: emerg­ing in­fec­tious dis­eases such as Ebola and MERS have fol­lowed. These are the threats we un­der­stand a lit­tle about – yet what we re­ally have to fear are the threats we cannot name. Even as global health ex­perts gather, new and un­mapped out­breaks can spread rapidly across the globe. More rapidly than ever, ar­guably, as air travel statis­tics show that more peo­ple are fly­ing, with more of the world than ever within a day’s travel.

Zika virus emerged in South Amer­ica late last year, and has since swept across ev­ery con­ti­nent, chal­leng­ing dis­ease con­trol ef­forts world­wide. The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion in 2014 es­ti­mated that vec­tor-borne dis­eases ac­count for 17% of the global bur­den of all in­fec­tious dis­eases, killing up to 750,000 peo­ple each year. Dengue, the fastest-grow­ing vec­tor-borne dis­ease, is en­demic in more than 100 coun­tries – with four out of ten peo­ple world­wide po­ten­tially at risk. Last year, Tai­wan con­firmed a to­tal of 43,419 in­dige­nous cases, which was one of the most se­vere dengue out­breaks since 1987. Since Zika virus is trans­mit­ted by the same mos­quito species that trans­mits dengue virus, Tai­wan also faces in­creased risk of a Zika virus out­break.

Be­cause we know in­fec­tious dis­eases do not re­spect bound­aries, Tai­wan has ful­filled its In­ter­na­tional Health Reg­u­la­tions re­spon­si­bil­i­ties since 2009, when we were of­fi­cially in­cluded in the im­ple­men­ta­tion frame­work. We have es­tab­lished an IHR Con­tact Point with WHO to en­able re­gional and global responses to pub­lic health threats. We as­sessed and im­proved our sur­veil­lance and re­sponse ca­pac­i­ties to meet the An­nex 1B IHR core re­quire­ments in a timely man­ner.

Tai­wan closely mon­i­tors in­ter­na­tional trends to op­ti­mally pro­mote and en­hance health se­cu­rity. In re­sponse to Ebola in West Africa, we pro­vided 100,000 sets of Per­sonal Pro­tec­tive Equip­ment and do­nated US$1 mil­lion to in­ter­na­tional Ebola aid ef­forts in 2014. Since then, we have or­ga­nized four train­ing work­shops for Asia-Pa­cific and South­east Asian health and lab­o­ra­tory work­ers to im­prove re­gional ca­pac­ity to de­tect and re­spond to Ebola, MERS, dengue and Zika virus. Par­tic­i­pants from 14 coun­tries ex­changed ex­pe­ri­ences and formed re­gional net­works to ad­dress such pub­lic health threats. Tai­wan has ex­panded mosquitore­lated pre­pared­ness and re­sponse with four strate­gies: health sys­tem plan­ning, pre­ven­tion of Zika virus im­por­ta­tion, bor­der quar­an­tine, and vec­tor con­trol mea­sures. Yet bet­ter vec­tor con­trol, ef­fec­tive vac­cines, and proper clin­i­cal man­age­ment are still needed.

Our peo­ple also face pan­demic and sea­sonal in­fluenza threats. Pre­vi­ous out­breaks have demon­strated that sea­sonal in­fluenza virus strains can pose ma­jor chal­lenges to our health sys­tems. As the high­est hos­pi­tal­iza­tion rates are among se­nior cit­i­zens, we en­cour­age an­nual sea­sonal in­fluenza vac­ci­na­tion to achieve herd im­mu­nity. As we con­tinue to im­prove our in­fluen­zare­lated plan­ning, we re­tain a global vi­sion and work hard to main­tain the widest pos­si­ble in­ter­na­tional health net­works.

To bring to­gether na­tions to pro­mote global health se­cu­rity, pre­vent dis­ease out­breaks, de­tect threats early and re­spond rapidly, the United States launched the Global Health Se­cu­rity Agenda with WHO, the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion of the United Na­tions (FAO), and the World Or­ga­ni­za­tion for An­i­mal Health (OIE). Its goals in­clude con­sis­tent and widely sup­ported stan­dards like IHR, in­clud­ing the Per­for­mance of Ve­teri­nary Ser­vices Path­way and other health se­cu­rity frame­works. By adopt­ing these frame­works, Tai­wan pro­motes hu­man medicine and ve­teri­nary col­lab­o­ra­tions and con­structs a uni­fied sys­tem for in­fec­tious dis­ease con­trol.

Noth­ing less than this mul­ti­lat­eral and multi-sec­toral ap­proach is needed to fight in­fec­tious dis­eases. While we still hope for bet­ter align­ment with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, we are re­or­ga­niz­ing at home to pur­sue best policies and prac­tices. We are es­tab­lish­ing a na­tional re­search in­sti­tute for vec­tor-borne dis­eases in south­ern Tai­wan to in­te­grate re­sources and as­sist lo­cal govern­ments with pre­ven­tion.

It is no news to ex­perts that a cri­sis any­where eas­ily and soon can be­come a prob­lem ev­ery­where. Global health de­mands that all pop­u­la­tions have op­ti­mal ca­pa­bil­i­ties to re­spond to such threats.

Tai­wan will con­tinue to pur­sue bi­lat­eral, mul­ti­lat­eral and re­search co­op­er­a­tion. We can be re­lied on to as­sist our Asia-Pa­cific and South­east Asian neigh­bours as they en­hance their own re­sponse ca­pac­i­ties. And for the rea­sons I have dis­cussed, we will ac­tively par­tic­i­pate in in­ter­na­tional are­nas.

Such par­tic­i­pa­tion en­sures that global health se­cu­rity will never again have deadly blind spots due to blocked com­mu­ni­ca­tion and a lack of trans­parency.

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