Taiwan, with about 23 million residents and about 2.7 million visitors from China in 2019, was at high risk for COVID-19. Yet they have only had 267 cases and two deaths. This relative success in our global pandemic warrants a closer look.
While we have already covered some of the details about how Taiwan is responding to this crisis, including remdesivir testing, this article will take a larger look at the factors that can lead to a relatively mitigated experience with this novel corona.
The United State and Taiwan are both high-tech nations with advanced economies and large amounts of scientific and medical expertise. But the way in which Taiwan has contained its COVID-19 outbreak, while the US is just beginning an outbreak that all the experts state will overwhelm our inventory of medical supplies and intensive-care facilities, leads to the conclusion that we have things to learn from the Taiwanese experience to date.
The effective Taiwanese response focused on: 1) Information. In the US now, much COVID-19 data is classified. In Taiwan, all of the virus data was made public. This included scientific conduits as well as serious, and honest updates and prevention advice regularly broadcast from TV, radio, and internet outlets. 2) Action in identifying and tracking cases from a “Big Data” perspective, including proactively seeking out patients. This was highly effective when done early with a high-tech population which is relatively socially-minded. Some of the key details were: early response, pervasive screening, contact tracing, comprehensive testing, and generous use of technology.
Other factors that helped Taiwan include the self-confidence and collective solidarity developed in avoiding communist rule and ultimately gaining full democracy under their own regime and also a wealth of technical experts in high position of government (the VP is an epidemiologist). Also, the SARS 2003 experience and the 2009 Swine Flu helped strengthen a powerful and cross-function central government department devoted to the purpose of fighting the global spread of disease pathogens.
A key researcher in this field is Jason Wang MD, PhD, and his paper on Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 can be found here. According the Wang, Taiwan’s positive response is one that US and world Pharma should remember and take to heart: “In a crisis, governments often make difficult decisions under uncertainty and time constraints. These decisions must be both culturally appropriate and sensitive to the population. Through early recognition of the crisis, daily briefings to the public, and simple health messaging, the government was able to reassure the public by delivering timely, accurate, and transparent information regarding the evolving epidemic. Taiwan is an example of how a society can respond quickly to a crisis and protect the interests of its citizens”