The ‘right to health’ goal and a role for Taiwan

With the COVID-19 pandemic abating and dialogue on strengthening health systems worldwide accelerating, Taiwan should not be left out

May 10, 2023 12:08 am | Updated 01:55 am IST

‘During the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan effectively leveraged the use f its comprehensive public health-care system’

‘During the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan effectively leveraged the use f its comprehensive public health-care system’ | Photo Credit: AP

As the world enters the fourth year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation is gradually improving. Most border restrictions have been lifted and global health governance is now focused on a post-pandemic recovery. Countries have stepped up efforts to achieve health and well-being for all and further the realisation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), whose progress was impacted by the pandemic.

Taiwan fully supports health-related SDGs and the World Health Organization’s ‘Triple Billion targets’. Taiwan is committed to building a more resilient and equitable health service supply chain, maintaining an inclusive and equitable universal health coverage system, and providing disease prevention and management through a robust primary health-care system. It is willing and able to share its experience in creating a cross-sectoral, innovative, and people-centered health approach to help the international community work toward the realisation of health-related SDGs.

Taiwan’s pandemic response

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan effectively mitigated the spread of the disease by leveraging its comprehensive public health-care system, well-trained personnel, and epidemiological surveillance, investigation, and analysis systems.

The Taiwanese people played a pivotal role too by following appropriate social behaviour, following quarantine regulations and getting vaccinated. When compared with the 38 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development member states and Singapore, Taiwan ranks sixth-lowest in COVID-19 mortality and case-fatality rates. Taiwan also ranks fourth-highest for coverage rates of at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose and third-highest in terms of vaccine boosters administered.

Last year, the World Health Organization’s Director-General outlined five priorities for the subsequent five years: promoting health, providing health services, protecting health, powering progress, and performing. Moreover, WHO’s ‘Achieving well-being’, a draft global framework for integrating well-being into public health that utilised a health promotion approach, further demonstrates its commitment to health for all.

A focus on disease prevention

Taiwan established a universal health-care insurance system in 1995, which provides disease prevention and health-care services for all. These include prenatal checkups, gestational diabetes screening, anemia testing, and three ultrasound examinations to reduce pregnancy risks and promote maternal and infant health. To assist infertile couples and reduce the financial burdens of in-vitro fertilization, the government has continued to expand subsidised infertility treatment programmes. Taiwan also aims to create a breastfeeding-friendly environment and provide preventive paediatric health care and health education. Taiwan has a number of prevention and management programmes for non-communicable diseases which include targeting chronic metabolic diseases help assist at-risk groups, diet and exercise guidance as well as smoking and betel nut cessation information to empower people. Taiwan also supports the global fight against cancer and WHO’s goal of reducing cancer mortality by 25% by 2025. In line with WHO’s Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative, Taiwan subsidises cervical screenings and human papillomavirus vaccinations. HPV vaccines have been administered to female students (12 to 15 years) since 2018, with a coverage rate of 92.1% by December 2022.

Taiwan’s National Health Insurance (NHI) offers financial protection and access to a range of essential services. The COVID-19 pandemic helped the international community recognise the importance of regional cooperation and digitisation in health care. Taiwan is committed to promoting digital health and innovation to enhance the accessibility and quality of health-care services, including plans for a next-generation NHI programme. Innovative services, utilising real-time tele-health consultations for remote areas and outlying islands, and is exploring applications for artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies. During the pandemic, Taiwan issued 13 export licences for its herbal formula NRICM101 (Taiwan Chingguan Yihau) to help countries in the region combat the pandemic. Taiwan is currently implementing preventive measures such as strengthening the domestic production of critical drugs and active pharmaceutical ingredients to avert future drug shortages. Taiwan will further share innovative technologies and best practices with partners around the world.

A place for Taiwan

Taiwan has not been invited to the World Health Assembly since 2017. Now that the COVID-19 pandemic is abating and dialogue on strengthening health systems worldwide is accelerating, Taiwan should not be left out. Taiwan’s inclusion would make the world healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable.

Taiwan urges WHO and all relevant stakeholders to support Taiwan’s inclusion in the World Health Assembly as an observer, as well as its full participation in WHO meetings, mechanisms, and activities. Taiwan will continue to work with the world to help ensure the fundamental right to health enshrined in the WHO Constitution. In the spirit of the SDGs, no country should be left behind — especially not Taiwan, which has made significant contributions to global public health.

Dr. Hsueh Jui-yuan is Minister of Health and Welfare, Republic of China (Taiwan)

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