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Enhancing National Disease Prevention Technology R&D Capabilities: The Official Opening of the Tainan Branch of the National Mosquito-Borne Diseases Control Research Center

 

In order to proactively combat the growing threat posed by vector-borne diseases, National Health Research Institutes (NHRI) was commissioned by the central government last year (2016) to carry out the National Mosquito-Borne Diseases Control Research Center Project which also includes establishing branch research centers in Kaohsiung, Tainan and Pingtung. The research center will research and develop disease prevention policies and measures proven to be effective through empirical research according to feedback from first-line disease prevention organizations and regional needs. This morning (Jan 6), Premier Lin Chuan, Tainan City Mayor William Lai, Minister of Health and Welfare Dr. Lin Tzou-yien, NHRI Acting President Dr. Yu Hsin-su and others attended the opening ceremony of the Tainan Branch Research Center of the National Mosquito-Borne Diseases Control Research Center. Offering a space where professionals and related industries can focus on vector-borne diseases R&D and practical trials, this branch research center serves as a base for developing and promoting innovative disease prevention technologies and industries across the nation.
 
Mayor Lai expressed his gratitude to the Executive Yuan, NHRI, Head Consultant of Tainan City Dengue Fever Prevention Professor Su Yi-jen, experts and researchers at National Cheng Kung University, and other individuals involved for their support in helping the city prevent and combat dengue fever. Tainan has seen great improvement in dengue fever prevention: the number of confirmed cases dropped from over 20,000 in 2015 to only 2 indigenous cases last year. This significant progress is due to three reasons. Firstly, in an attempt to learn from the past, Tainan diligently analyzed confirmed case statistics from 2015 and developed prevention measures for different scenarios. Secondly, the government established a stricter control structure for disease prevention. Setting up a system similar to that of a natural disaster command center, different administrative bodies are categorized into three levels: “Level Three (district offices)”, “Level Two (department of health )” and “Level One (city government)” for more effective disease control. Thirdly, Tainan City Government focused more on the organizational issue and established the Tainan City Government Dengue Fever Prevention & Research Center last year. This is the first organization in Taiwan that focuses on dengue fever. Currently there are over 50 professional staff in the facility, and the number is expected to reach 70 people in the future. 
 
Mayor Lai further remarked that the local research center in Tainan has been working closely with central governmental organizations since its establishment. The National Mosquito-Borne Diseases Control Research Center focuses on research, and the local city government is responsible for first-line prevention. Last year’s significant decrease of cases was the result of the close collaboration between central and local research centers and governments. The severe epidemic in 2015 spiked public awareness on disease prevention, and Tainan City Government is grateful for the assistance and instructions from experts at National Cheng Kung University and the consultant team. By employing technologies such as big data analysis and IoT, the city government can quickly analyze and comprehend the situation of the epidemic and actively develop various tools to repel mosquitoes with limited personnel and resources. Some examples include an app developed by the National Cheng Kung University team which encourages users to identify and report breeding sites, and a smart mosquito zapper lamp jointly developed by MediaTek and National Cheng Kung University. These tools contribute greatly to Tainan City as they provide data and allow the city government and citizens to effectively know the locations of epidemic hotspots and the Breteau Index of each area. Hopefully the city can eventually provide a very good disease prevention model for Taiwan. 
 
Premier Lin Chuan pointed out that vector issues are not new problems and disease prevention solutions require resources from the nation. Not only methods for vector control are needed, but also instructions and feedback on related strategies. This is why the establishment of the National Mosquito-Borne Diseases Control Research Center is such a milestone. The branch research centers in Kaohsiung, which opened last year, and Tainan are expected to work together and map out strategies to effectively control future dengue fever epidemics and actively research and develop technologies to improve disease prevention results. Taiwan aims to become a global leader in this field, conduct technology and expert exchanges with South East Asian countries, and realize our New South-bound Policy.
 
According to NHRI, the National Mosquito-Borne Diseases Control Research Center works as a research network on which vector and disease prevention experts nation-wide can share their work and research. This would encourage more interactions between central and local disease prevention teams. Serving as a think tank, the research center also provides scientific and empirical research results for local industries to utilize and develop innovative prevention methods. In terms of physical space, the center serves a research base with labs for research, development and trial runs.
 
Other facilities available at the center include a high-standard mosquito breeding room and farm to support mosquito-related research, and the most comprehensive residential pesticide testing area in Asia. Unused dormitory grounds were converted into mock living and office spaces where researchers can conduct pesticide testing in the various settings. Since vectors are territorial, the simulated spaces can help researchers learn more about specific traits of different mosquitoes and consequently improve disease prevention methods. In addition to facilities, the center also provides resources for personnel training. There is a training center for training disease prevention personnel and volunteers who will promote prevention-related information in communities, improve local prevention efforts, and support other counties and cities during emergency outbreaks. 
 
The research center also welcomes industries and businesses to come and collaborate in developing new disease prevention technologies and setting up new R&D spaces. Currently the center has invited in research teams working on new prevention/detection technology, screening and diagnosis rapid test kit development, and medicine and vaccine development; and will continue to assist local governments to develop new prevention technologies and strategies, train professional disease prevention personnel, enhance central and local disease prevention capabilities, and exchange ideas and information on disease prevention with other countries. We aim to provide innovative disease prevention technologies and research results and contribute to international health and disease prevention.