ATTENTION: This is a beta website, the final version will look significantly different. Thanks for bearing with us while HJM is under construction! Posts can now be found here.

Taiwan’s COVID-19 lesson for us

March 13, 2020

Topics: Quote of the Day

By C. Jason Wang, MD, PhD; Chun Y. Ng, MBA, MPH; Robert H. Brook, MD, ScD
JAMA, March 3, 2020


Taiwan’s government learned from its 2003 SARS experience and established a public health response mechanism for enabling rapid actions for the next crisis. Well-trained and experienced teams of officials were quick to recognize the crisis and activated emergency management structures to address the emerging outbreak.

In a crisis, governments often make difficult decisions under uncertainty and time constraints. These decisions must be both culturally appropriate and sensitive to the population. Through early recognition of the crisis, daily briefings to the public, and simple health messaging, the government was able to reassure the public by delivering timely, accurate, and transparent information regarding the evolving epidemic. Taiwan is an example of how a society can respond quickly to a crisis and protect the interests of its citizens.


Taiwan’s Response to the Coronavirus Challenge of 2020

By Tsung-Mei Cheng
Taiwan Insight, University of Nottingham, Taiwan Studies Programme, March 5, 2020

Ultimately, the outcome of any infectious disease outbreak depends to a significant degree on the response of not only the government but also the public to the threat. Taiwan’s response to date has played an important role in Taiwan’s so far limited spread of Covid-19, despite its geographic proximity and close economic and cultural ties to China, which is the source of the global Covid-19 outbreak.


Remarks by President Trump in Address to the Nation

The White House, March 11, 2020

This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history.

The virus will not have a chance against us.

No nation is more prepared or more resilient than the United States.


MSNBC, March 13, 2020

Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Initiative, joins Morning Joe to discuss the latest details in the spread of the coronavirus and the staggering government response.

“The federal response really has been a fiasco.”

10-minute video:


By Don McCanne, M.D.

Taiwan has a single payer national health program. The United States does not. Both nations now face the COVID-19 pandemic. “Taiwan is an example of how a society can respond quickly to a crisis and protect the interests of its citizens. (JAMA)” Yet in the United States, “The federal response really has been a fiasco. (Jha)”

Is the difference due to the single payer system? Well, it is an important factor. Taiwan’s single payer system has removed barriers to health care – certainly crucial during a pandemic. The United States is stumbling around just trying to figure out how we can test people to see who might be contagious. Forget about ensuring payment for care for the critically ill who are uninsured or underinsured.

But more important than insurance coverage is the fact that the Taiwanese government is lead by politicians who understand the importance of ensuring the general welfare of its people. In contrast, the Trump administration has left the nation ill-prepared by neglecting our safety-net public health functions. The President’s response primarily has been to issue his usual blowhard statements that often conflict with both the competent and incompetent members of his administration.

Uwe Reinhardt and Tsung-Mei Cheng recognized the importance of the government role in the health care systems of various nations. They deemed the single payer model to be appropriate for Taiwan, and they helped them achieve it. So it is instructive to see her response to the Taiwanese efforts to limit the harm that could be done by this highly contagious disorder.

(As this comment is being composed, Congress is preparing legislation to expedite testing for COVD-19. Why does the President of the United States need an act of Congress to prompt him into action that he should have taken long ago when it appeared that the pandemic was inevitable? Not to mention that the government should always be maintained in a state of preparedness. And why did he launch his administration with a slash and burn approach with no apparent intent to replace those crucial government functions?)

We’ve known that Taiwan has had lessons for us on single payer, which we have ignored, but do we really have to turn to them to find out about the fundamental basics of governing? Surely we have competent individuals we can elect who would put us on a path toward social justice for all.

Stay informed! Visit www.pnhp.org/qotd to sign up for daily email updates.

About the Commentator, Don McCanne

Don McCanne is a retired family practitioner who dedicated the 2nd phase of his career to speaking and writing extensively on single payer and related issues. He served as Physicians for a National Health Program president in 2002 and 2003, then as Senior Health Policy Fellow. For two decades, Don wrote "Quote of the Day", a daily health policy update which inspired HJM.

See All Posts

You might also be interested in...

© Health Justice Monitor
Facebook Twitter