Centralized database key to COVID-19 control in Taiwan: study

04/03/2020 07:44 PM
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People follow social distancing protocol in Taipei
People follow social distancing protocol in Taipei

Taipei, April 3 (CNA) An article posted on a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has highlighted the early steps Taiwan took to contain the spread of the new coronavirus disease in the country, especially its coordination and use of information.

"Of note, the centralized, real-time database of the country's national health insurance (NHI) helped support disease surveillance and case detection," said the essay, titled "Policy Decisions and Use of Information Technology to Fight 2019 Novel Coronavirus Disease, Taiwan."

The article, which appears on the U.S. CDC's "Emerging Infectious Diseases" journal and will be published in July, argued that the comprehensive response and innovative use of the NHI database by Taiwan's CDC effectively delayed and contained community transmission in Taiwan.

That was accomplished even as the number of confirmed cases surged in neighboring countries in Asia starting in mid-February, said the article written by a research team that included members of Taiwan's CDC.

The research team wrote that as soon as China reported an unidentified outbreak of 27 cases of unknown pneumonia in Wuhan to the World Health Organization on Dec. 31, 2019, Taiwan assembled a task force and began doing quick health checks of passengers inside planes from Wuhan after they landed in Taiwan.

Thanks to its rapid implementation of disease prevention measures, Taiwan detected and isolated the country's first coronavirus case on Jan. 20, it said, noting that laboratories in Taiwan developed 4-hour test kits and isolated two strains of the coronavirus before February.

The adept use of the database was made possible, the team wrote, by adding people's travel histories to China and all confirmed and suspected case contacts to the NHI database.

Those additions and the usual real-time NHI information on patients' health history "helped pinpoint high-risk patients" and gave the Taiwan CDC "the ability to quickly identify new patterns of symptoms or clustered cases and the source or path of infection," the team said.

Other factors leading to the effective response, the article said, were the experience of the 2003 SARS outbreak, prevalent public awareness, a robust public health network, support from health care industries, and cross-departmental collaborations.

Despite its proximity to China, where the COVID-19 outbreak originated, Taiwan has reported a relatively low 348 confirmed cases with five deaths.

Globally, the virus has so far infected over 1 million people in 188 countries, and more than 50,000 of them have died of the disease.

The research team was led by Duke University professor Pikuei Tu (涂碧桂) and Taiwan CDC chief Chou Chih-hao (周志浩).

The deputy director-general of the CDC, Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥), told CNA on Friday that Taiwan faced the infectious disease from China with extreme caution because of its geographic proximity to China and its painful experience in fighting SARS in 2003.

"Different from some other countries, in which cities and states fought against the outbreak alone, Taiwan strengthened cross-departmental collaboration on quarantines," Chuang said.

With the assistance of the police administration system, for example, local governments could quickly locate those who had contact with infected patients to stem the spread of the virus.

(By Chang Ming-hsuan and Elizabeth Hsu)

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