At the National Taiwan University College of Public Health, they realized the threat of COVID-19 very early on because of the close interaction between Taiwan and China and the 2003 SARS outbreak. According to Dean Shou-Hsia Cheng, “We had been very cautious about emerging infectious diseases from China as well as other neighboring countries.”
In the face of the unknown and new virus, their first mission was to disseminate updated information and science to public health professionals in a timely manner. To this end, they worked with the Taiwan Public Health Association to organize physical and online workshops and provide the most updated information. They also organized frequent press conferences to translate and interpret to the general public important international information on the development of the pandemic. At the same time, their infectious disease experts started to work with central and local public health officials to provide consultation and analyze epidemic data on a timely basis.
According to Dean Cheng, one of the most important initiatives was expanding their infectious disease expertise by recruiting more faculty members from this field. “This was proven to be critical later because our newly recruited staff interacted and worked closely with Taiwan CDC during the later waves of the pandemics.”
But there were challenges. Says Dean Cheng, “The biggest challenge is the evolving situation of the outbreak on the daily basis and the need for the administration team to react and adjust to maintain the key functions of the college.”
Cheng adds, “We (both people and the system) have to be flexible during an emergency. This pandemic challenged our ways of planning and doing things. To prepare for future public health emergencies, it is time for us to look back and restructure our organization based on what we learned in the past two years. One lesson is the funding mechanism and the finance system need to be more flexible during an emergent public health issue so that our researchers could have enough resources to respond to and answer important and time-sensitive questions. The second lesson is that there should be a stronger linkage between academia and policymakers. It is possible that the speed of knowledge generation from academia was behind the timeline of policymaking for such a crisis, and the government officials had to make critical decisions in the absence of strong evidence. Nonetheless, examples from other countries have suggested that there are better ways to do science-and evidence-based policymaking. It is also the time for both academia and policymakers to reflect on what happened in the last two years and jointly discuss ways forward.”