An international conference on bio-terrorism jointly organized by the Department of Health and the Ministry of National Defense (MND)yesterday concluded that international collaboration was the best defense, with emphasis also being put on outbreak alert and response networks and the stockpiling and mobilization of drugs and vaccinations to effected areas in the shortest time possible.
Deputy Director of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Shih Wen-yi (施文儀), said that Taiwan has made a slow start in the area of bio-terrorism defense, especially as little attention was given to these threats until the US anthrax attacks on Sept. 18, 2001, when letters containing anthrax bacteria were mailed to several media organizations' offices and two US senators, killing 5 people in total.
Director of the CDC, Steve Kuo (郭旭崧) said, "Taiwan is a relative new comer to bio-terrorism defense. We need help and international cooperation."
Kuo said that despite not being an official member of the WHO, Taiwan was still a meaningful participant due to revised international health regulations, which specify that "every country should have the will and capacity for early detection, rapid verification and appropriate response to disease threats in order to minimize the impact on global health and economy."
Kuo said that in a meeting he attended three weeks ago at the WHO, he asked whether Taiwan could be included as part of an outbreak alert and response network which works at a global, regional, and sub-regional level.
These systems consist of technical collaboration between existing institutions and networks, which pool human and technical resources for the rapid identification, confirmation and response to outbreaks of international importance.
David Trudhill, the Vice Director of Horizon, a company specializing in biodefense, emphasized the importance of stockpiling vaccines and mediations, saying that the US private sector has made the bio-defense industry one of the fastest growing in the country.
"In 2004 there was US$1billion spent on anthrax research alone. This year US$7.6 billion has been invested in bio-defense and this does not include [US] President George W. Bush's US$7.1 billion for the pandemic influenza plan," he said.
Trudhill also stressed the importance of prompt delivery of supplies, saying that the next step was to create a body in which countries worked together to deliver medical supplies to anywhere in the world within a short period of time.
He said that the US Strategic National Stockpile, which was created in 1999, had the ability to get medical supplies to anywhere in the country within 12 hours.
In outlining the current goals at a national level, Shih said that priorities included completing the establishment of a bio-terrorism related emergency response system, revising and reviewing anti bio-terrorism related regulations and policy, cultivating anti bio-terrorism talent and setting up inspection and protection equipment and capacity.
According to Kuo, the DOH are in the process of drafting plans for creating a bio-terrorism defense training center in Taoyuan.
At present Taiwan's national anti-terrorism system is modeled on a "3-3-1" system. The first "3" refers to different stages of crisis management which includes, crisis prevention, dealing with a crisis and crisis recovery. The second "3" refers to the different levels of risk, ranging from low to high. While the "1" refers to an attack and the emergency response activation.