Taiwan CDC: Getting out of the health stampede

What are the specific strokes that Taiwan threw to earn it praise? Dr Angela Song-en Huang , Medical Officer at Taiwan Center for Disease Control shares more about their COVID-19 success story.

Best practices should be imitated especially at this time when all the world shares in the hysteria brought about by COVID-19.

You’ve seen it on the news – how a David like Taiwan takes on a Goliath also known as COVID-19. This success story has been shared across industries around the world, but what really are the specific strokes that Taiwan threw to earn it praise?

In a webinar organized by Hospital Management Asia, Dr Huang lets us in on exactly what they did in response to the health outbreak: intensive surveillance efforts, well-organized contact tracing, learning from SARS, and cooperation among all sectors.

Intensive surveillance efforts

What stands out from Taiwan’s strategy is its efforts on surveillance. They monitored what the media is saying about the pandemic so as to work with them to avoid misinformation and unnecessary panic. They checked social media platforms, including chatrooms, so they know what rumors or fake news are circulating online, and therefore to verify and respond accordingly. They surveyed what other countries are doing and what the World Health Organization is saying. This worked for Taiwan because when you have the proper information, you can also give the right solutions.

We have heard of how other countries have shrugged off the gravity of the new infection. Some turned a blind eye thinking that the virus is too far from reaching their territories. Yet, here comes globalization, and with it the inescapable movement of people no matter the geographical boundaries. In Taiwan, no day was wasted from the time the cases started to appear. According to Dr Huang, direct flights from Wuhan, where the virus was believed to have started, had been quarantined since 31 December 2019. The country announced the first case of COVID-19 on 21 January 2020. After two days, flights from Hubei were also quarantined. On 21 March 2020, Taiwan imposed mandatory quarantine for everyone who enters the country.

Well-organized contact tracing

Like what health authorities recommend, contact tracing is important to stop the spread of the infection. Taiwan heard this right. Maybe, it even heard it better than any of us did. They took the situation seriously that they used every possible way to successfully trace those who had contact with the patients. Dr Huang said that they even visited the homes of these people and the places they’ve been if they are not reachable by phone. Through classifying whether a person is a close contact (someone who has had contact with a COVID-19 patient for more than 15 minutes), they were able to maximize all available resources to do quarantining efficiently.

Learning from SARS

If anything, the good that came from the world’s experience with SARS in 2003 is the relevant learning on what to do in a pandemic. Taiwan certainly embraced the learning by heart. In its response to COVID-19, the country highlighted the importance of wearing masks – a practice mainly understood by citizens from the previous pandemic experience. Likewise, SARS taught them the importance of hospital infection control. If doctors and nurses aren’t given the right protection, then who will remain in the front lines? In other words, they know that health workers need support above anything else, especially at this challenging time.

General cooperation

No matter how hard doctors and nurses work to fight COVID-19 if they are the only ones who act, nothing will happen. In Taiwan, general cooperation was key for the nation to survive the pandemic with grace. First, government agencies, in particular the ministries of health, interior, transportation, and economic affairs, worked together to respond to the crisis. Doing what they do best and doing it hand-in-hand, the government was able to stop it from getting out of hand. Not only this, but the government also included private hospitals in their fight. While other countries refused to pay for COVID-19 treatments done in private medical facilities, Taiwan’s National Health Insurance Plan assured private hospitals that “they will earn as much as they did last year”, as mentioned by Dr Huang. It is important to note that the country did not allow for private and public hospitals to have a distinction in terms of their roles during the health outbreak.

Despite being on self-isolation or in quarantine becoming the “new normal” for most societies, there is no doubt that not being able to go out of the house to get some sunlight or maybe engage in some social interaction tends to be psychologically demanding. Acknowledging this, the local governments in Taiwan provided all possible support, in the form of food and even movie passes, to those in quarantine. Because people saw the efforts being made by the government, they give their full cooperation in return.

Of course, on top of all these things, the government secured that they have the necessary medical facilities for testing and treatment. At the onset of the pandemic, they made sure they have enough laboratory capacity as well as quarantine capacity, they readied hospitals and clinics, and they increased the production and import of PPEs and surgical masks. They aimed to do massive diagnostic testing, hence, from 8 contract laboratories, they now have more than 30 laboratories with a testing capacity of 3000-3500 people per day.

Taiwan did not impose any hard lockdowns. Yet, look at how they had managed to overcome the pandemic that currently shakes economies around the world.
If they had a secret formula, it is this: huge amounts of cooperation plus contact tracing and surveillance, plus the application of past learning.

Did you miss our webinar? Watch it here.