Friday, May 31, 2013

Public Health in Taiwan: Transition and Reform

Publication Date:06/01/2013

On May 20, 2013, Minister of Health Chiu Wen-ta of the Republic of China (Taiwan) led a delegation to participate in the 66th World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Switzerland. This was the fifth consecutive year in which Taiwan took part in the WHA under the name “Chinese Taipei.” The year 2013, which marks the 10th anniversary of the SARS epidemic, has seen the outbreak of the H7N9 strain of avian influenza. As such, this year’s WHA merits special attention.
In the 1950s, the prevention of communicable diseases was the most important public health issue in Taiwan. Efforts made in disease prevention resulted in the eradication of a number of communicable diseases, among them smallpox, cholera, plague, and rabies, within 15 years of Taiwan’s retrocession to the Republic of China. In 1965, Taiwan was certified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as being malaria-free. Taiwan was once known for the prevalence of liver diseases, with hepatitis B being, then as now, the most common ailment. However, since 2000, all newborns in Taiwan have been given a hepatitis B vaccine, and thus there is a very low carrier rate in children of this generation. The percentage of chronic infection of the hepatitis B virus is less than 1 percent, comparable to developed countries in Europe, the United States, and Japan. This stands in stark contrast to the situation in 1980, when some 15.2 percent of adults were infected with hepatitis B virus (the highest percentage worldwide). Such outstanding progress demonstrates Taiwan’s determination to eliminate hepatitis B.

With the availability of antibiotics and vaccines, communicable diseases are better controlled than ever. However, new types of communicable diseases can still pose a great threat to public health. When Taiwan’s first case of H7N9 influenza was confirmed in April this year, the nation’s Centers for Disease Control, based on the principles of transparency, openness, and accuracy, immediately reported the incident to the WHO in accordance with the International Health Regulations (IHR). Although Taiwan is not presently a party to the WHO Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (WHO/PIP) framework, we nevertheless comply with its regulations, voluntarily take part in the transparent traceability mechanism for PIP biological materials, and provide virus strains to parties requiring them. Taiwan is also willing to donate vaccines, medicine, and other materials needed for the prevention of disease in a timely fashion to countries in need so as to close holes in the global disease prevention network.


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