As the 2014 Ebola outbreak continues to ravage parts of West Africa, Taiwan is stepping up preparatory measures to protect its citizens while partnering with the global community to mount an effective response.
Taiwan is densely populated with a significant amount of international passenger traffic.
Having experienced major disease outbreaks such as SARS, H1N1 and H7N9, it exercises extreme caution to guard against the spread of communicable diseases.
When the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the current Ebola outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on August 8, we immediately established a Task Force for Ebola Virus Disease Response to monitor the latest developments and reinforce the implementation of Ebola prevention measures.
Taiwan also has a number of heightened border measures that were instituted during the post-SARS period, including fever screening checkpoints at all ports of entry.
For the current Ebola outbreak, we have been broadcasting announcements on all arriving international flights since October 21, urging passengers who had been in Ebola-affected West African countries within the past 21 days to contact the quarantine officer at the airport.
The Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (Taiwan CDC) also requires passengers arriving from high-risk areas to fill out an Ebola Declaration Form indicating their travel history.
These border measures constitute our first line of defense, which allows Taiwan CDC to activate its response mechanism as soon as a suspected case is identified and to contain the virus.
Following Ebola infection cases in Spain and the US, our government has heightened its vigilance against possible transmission.
The six Ebola-designated hospitals around Taiwan have been instructed to ensure that all frontline healthcare workers are properly trained in the donning, wearing and doffing of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Meanwhile, regular medical institutions have conducted more than 1200 Ebola safety-training drills and trained over 100,000 healthcare workers.
Given the complexity behind the emergence and transmission of the Ebola virus, we must halt the spread of the disease at its source.
Hence, it is important that we work with our global partners and do more to support West Africa. As a responsible global citizen, Taiwan is ready and willing to participate in international and humanitarian aid efforts for affected countries.
Ready to help
President Ma Ying-jeou has pledged to provide 100,000 sets of protective clothing, donate US$1 million in cash, and dispatch a team of medical experts to affected areas in West Africa. Additionally, the Taiwan Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) has been in close contact with international FETPs, including US and Nigerian health officials, to exchange information on Ebola aid activities as well as to discuss how Taiwan FETP can contribute to and participate in international medical aid efforts.
Stopping infectious diseases at the border has always been one of our most important strategies in protecting the health and wellbeing of our citizens.
Further, elevated international cooperation is urgently needed to keep the disease from crossing borders. As infectious diseases know no boundaries, especially in today’s increasingly interconnected world, Taiwan looks forward to working with the international community in stopping Ebola and other emerging infectious diseases.
Dr Steve H S Kuo is Director-General, Centers for Disease Control at the Ministry of Health and Welfare in the Republic of China (Taiwan).