Response to COVID-19 in Taiwan: Big Data Analytics, New Technology, and Proactive Testing | Global Health | JAMA | JAMA Network
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March 3, 2020

Response to COVID-19 in Taiwan: Big Data Analytics, New Technology, and Proactive Testing

Author Affiliations
  • 1Departments of Pediatrics, Medicine, and Health Research and Policy, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California
  • 2The New School for Leadership in Health Care, Koo Foundation Sun Yat-Sen Cancer Center, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 3David Geffen School of Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles
  • 4The Pardee RAND Graduate School, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, California
JAMA. 2020;323(14):1341-1342. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.3151

Taiwan is 81 miles off the coast of mainland China and was expected to have the second highest number of cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) due to its proximity to and number of flights between China.1 The country has 23 million citizens of which 850 000 reside in and 404 000 work in China.2,3 In 2019, 2.71 million visitors from the mainland traveled to Taiwan.4 As such, Taiwan has been on constant alert and ready to act on epidemics arising from China ever since the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003. Given the continual spread of COVID-19 around the world, understanding the action items that were implemented quickly in Taiwan and assessing the effectiveness of these actions in preventing a large-scale epidemic may be instructive for other countries.

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    12 Comments for this article
    Taiwan Experience Worth Spreading to The International Community
    Sha SA, MD, PhD | Taipei Medical University
    I as an expat who has been living in Taiwan for the last 9 years. Taiwan is an example of how a society can respond quickly to a crisis and protect the interests of its citizens. It is very unfortunate that WHO doesn't recognize and learn from the experiences of Taiwan to deal with outbreaks.
    Someone Please Send this Info to the Washington State governor
    MR Johns |
    Very impressive and I wish the US Federal and Washington State local government acted in such systematic and proactive manner! Probably too late. We already missed the time window at several crucial junctures
    Taiwan's Coronavirus response gives confidence
    Lloyd Lalande, ClinPsych, PhD | Tzu Chi University
    I'm another expat living in Taiwan. There has definitely been a sense here that the COVID-19 threat has and continues to be managed competently by the government with community members also responsibly and cooperatively playing their part. That response is visible everywhere, whether coming through immigration control, having my temperature checked each time I enter my campus, using the alcohol hand spray at my favorite coffee shop, or buying masks with my residential card. Watching Taiwan's response, as detailed in this excellent article, and then the WHO response (or lack of) makes one question the relevancy of that organization.
    Ernest Ciambarella, MD, Pediatrics | Retired
    This article shows what can be accomplished when you have a health care system where profit is not the motive and a government whose primary concern are its citizens and not the stock market. Noteworthy too that their VP is an epidemiologist.
    Health IT
    Wei-yi Chung, RN, MS in CS | NYU Langone Health
    Thank you for the great example of how real-time analytics works in epidemics.
    Fast and Furious Response to COVID-19 in Taiwan
    Michael McAleer, PhD (Econometrics), Queen's | Asia University, Taiwan
    Geographic proximity, history, culture, finance and economics intertwine Taiwan and the People's Republic of China.

    A similar connection might have been expected in the respective responses to COVID-19.

    The informative article presents an instructive and workable model to the WHO and the world community of how to deal with and contain epidemics.

    The arsenal of information includes the use of advanced analytics, technology, proactive screening, testing and retesting, communication strategies, accountability, and the presentation of informative and credible daily updates.

    An emphasis on risk and disaster management for quarantine during incubation, as well as health care
    concern for citizens and residents, is reassuring.

    Taiwan's universal health and medical system might be expensive, but seems to be working efficiently when needed in times of crisis.

    The alternative to effective universal health care is evident in a number of developed countries, where the response to COVID-19 has been disappointing, and anything but fast and furious.
    Drug Inhibitor Testing
    Ethan Tu, MS | Taiwan AI Labs
    The outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infections occurring in 2019 is in dire need of finding potential therapeutic agents. In a recent study -- not yet peer reviewed (1) -- we used molecular docking strategies to repurpose HIV protease inhibitors and nucleotide analogues for COVID-19. The evaluation was made on docking scores calculated by AutoDock Vina and RosettaCommons. Preliminary results suggested that Indinavir and Remdesivir have the best docking scores and the comparison of the docking sites of these two drugs shows a near perfect dock in the overlap region of the protein pocket. However, the active sites inferred from the proteins of SARS coronavirus are not compatible with the docking site of COVID-19, which may give rise to concern in the efficacy of drugs. Our data are shared publicly (2).



    2. COVID19 Taiwan NHI Drug Data Repository by Taiwan AI Labs Intelligent Medical Genomics Team.
    Using Technology to Fight The Epidemic
    Faye Kleeman, Ph.D. |
    This is an excellent article. Just want to add one more thing that the article did not mention. The Taiwan government not only rations face masks to prevent hoarding, it also created a virtual map guided by GPS that tells you where the nearest pharmacies are and which pharmacy still have face masks in stock. On March 11th, it started on-line ordering of face masks so those who have to work or attend classes can pre-order the mask and just stop by a convenient store to pick them up after work. Citizens are cooperative in this crisis as you hardly see anyone in public space, buses and subways, markets, campuses without a mask.
    Taiwan learned to protect herself when abandoned by WHO in 2003
    Risa Tei |
    With the medical and infectious professionals in full command in NHCC (Taiwan's CDC), the government administration gives full support and follow up in all related areas, as mentioned in your report: setting up border control, providing medical supplies, securing masks for people in need, arranging hospital duties, giving out guidance for school kids and more. This helped to expedite all processes in a timely and effective manner.

    Maybe we heard that masks are not really essential in epidemic, but there were some cases proving that wearing masks really helped. There was one caregiver diagnosed positive after taking
    care of an elderly patient, and didn't spread the virus even though she had taken all subways, trains and buses around for several days. After NHCC checked the videos, they found out she and the people around her were wearing masks the whole time.

    There is a saying for the Taiwan situation: the kids without umbrellas must run faster than others in a heavy rain. With no protection and help from World Health Organization, Taiwan has no other choice but to be strong and proactive against any virus or epidemic.
    Confirmation of Airport and Local Screening
    Andrew Ku, MD | Allegheny General Hospital
    Having visited Taiwan in January and February I can confirm the measures at the airport upon deplaning. I couldn't board a taxi to my hotel without a face mask. I was given one at a taxi stand. At the hotel and airport I had a noninvasive temperature taken. I provided a local address to immigration prior to leaving the airport.

    All highly efficient without being too obtrusive.

    I strongly commend the support given by their health authorities to those who self quarantine.

    Similar US Public health support would increase community acceptance of self quarantine measures.
    SARS and Climate Change
    Rey Tiquia, PhD | University of Melbourne
    A significant fact that Taiwanese researchers discovered from their experience in dealing with the SARS epidemic in 2003 was the correlation between the rise of epidemics and climate change.

    In a paper published in the Journal of Chinese Medicine 15(4): 231-239, 2004, Taiwanese researchers Jun-Ran Jiang, Ye Fang, Chin Lieh Hung, Hen-Hoing Chang, Sie Hung Yang, Jong-Jen Kuo and Yu-sheng Chen observed that since the 1980’s climate change has been playing a major role in the outbreak of epidemic diseases such as:

    1. The outbreak of hanta virus epidemic in May 1993
    in the southwestern region of the United States.
    2. Prevalence of meningitis in Nigeria in 1997-1979.
    3. Prevalence of malaria in Rwanda in 1987.
    4. The phenomena of El nino and La nina which brought about climate changes and in turn influenced the occurrence and spread of infectious diseases.
    5. The outbreak of the Murray River encephalitis and Ross River virus in Australia.
    6. The outbreak of ‘eastern equine encephalitis in the easter region of the United States.
    7. The outbreak of malaria in Sri Lanka.
    8. The SARS outbreak in Mainland China

    Looking at the ocurences of epidemics in China from 1371 up till 1911, Taiwanese researchers discovered that epidemics transpired in 98 ‘disharmonious years’ when there were fierce and extreme weather and climactic changes.
    Joel Zonszein MD
    Joel Zonszein, MD, Prof of Medicine | Albert Einstein College of Medicine
    In reviewing the literature JAMA has published regarding susceptibility to COVID-19 infection in China, Singapore, Taiwan, Italy and early US (Seattle Washington), I was unable to determine obesity and diabetes are real risk factors. There are many opinion articles without data and minimal information regarding the “true” incidence or prevalence of COVID-19. The prevalence of COVID-19 in Vò, a hot spot of Northern Italy, showed that mass screening testing all 3,300 of inhabitants showed that approximately 3% of residents were  infected and ½ asymptomatic. The data differ from projections of 50-70% being infected, and approximately 80% asymptomatic. There are not many other studies with mass screening using reliable 2019-nCov Real-Time Reverse Transcriptase (RT)-PCR diagnostic tests.

    Obesity and diabetes are often mentioned as risk factor sfor mortality – I tried finding such evidence in the literature, but was unable as there is no “real data.” In fact, the incidence of diabetes in the elderly population who died from COVID-19–caused ARDS, had a below average incidence of diabetes and I was unable to find any data with weight and or obesity in either the affected population or in those with unfortunate outcomes. I am trying to gather “real data” of obesity and diabetes, often mentioned as risk factors for COVID-19 or mortality.

    It is important to separate facts from opinions; opinions cause more confusion to our susceptible population and after more than three months of this epidemic data needs to be available.