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.