A two-day APEC event marking the 10th anniversary of the global outbreak of SARS started in Taipei yesterday.
The Centers for Disease Control said the date of July 5 was chosen to commemorate Taiwan’s removal from the WHO’s list of SARS-affected areas 10 years ago.
Deputy Minister of Health Lin Tzou-yien (林奏延) said that SARS affected two-thirds of APEC economies, hitting Taiwan with devastating consequences and exposing the weaknesses in the nation’s disease prevention and emergency response systems.
“There were 347 cases of SARS infection and 37 deaths in Taiwan,” Lin said, adding that the hidden weaknesses found through the epidemic were “overdevelopment of the specialization of physicians, lack of experience in dealing with a large-scale infectious disease outbreak, insufficient coordination among the command systems, weak infection control mechanisms and defects in the medical emergency system.”
Lin said since then, the nation’s healthcare and disease prevention and control systems have been greatly strengthened.
“The reforms include the amendment of the Communicable Disease Control Act (傳染病防治法), improved surveillance systems and border quarantine actions, enhanced laboratory technology and capabilities, the creation of the Communicable Disease Control Medical Network and enhanced international collaboration,” he said.
Setting up the disease control network, with one central command center, is probably the reform that has had the most palpable results, he said.
The network was set up hot on the heels of the SARS outbreak in 2003, Lin said, and “has brought together the medical and public health systems” and strengthened Taiwan’s capacity in the prevention and control of communicable diseases.
Under the network, the country is divided into six areas with 22 responding hospitals in 22 cities or counties, all under the command of the Central Epidemic Command Center, which is re-established according to need by the central government based on the “severity of the domestic and international epidemic conditions,” and when it is necessary to consolidate resources and facilities, as well as integrate personnel from different organizations and institutions.
The command center was activated on March 31 this year, three days after news of the first human case of H7N9 infection in China, CDC official Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) said.
Chuang said interdepartmental coordination was made possible as a result.
The APEC conference is titled “Innovation, Achievement and Sustainable Development of a Public Health Emergency Response System 10 Years after the SARS Epidemic.”