Understanding the heart of diplomatic ties between Taiwan and islands in the Caribbean and Pacific was the central focus of a week-long exploration of Taiwan spanning May 27- June 3, 2017. Journalists from various parts of the globe including St Vincent, Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Palau and the Republic of Nauru spent the week testing their knowledge of Taiwan’s efforts in their own countries and gaining insight from representatives in government, education, agriculture, sports and other sectors.
Among the topics discussed was the growth of Taiwan as a nation, and its ability within that scope to preserve precious aspects of culture. Not surprisingly, Taiwan’s international image, successes, and struggles, especially its ongoing efforts to become a member of the United Nations, was up for discussion.
Even this week Taiwan’s exclusion from the UN’s World Health Organization Assembly was making headlines. While in Taiwan the media delegation had the opportunity to sit with Dr. Chui-Cheng, Deputy Minister, Mainland Affairs Council, Executive Yuan, who emphasized his conviction that Taiwan had already made its contribution to the international arena and, as such, its participation was vital. He spoke of increased pressure from mainland Beijing, stating that obstacles interfered with Taiwan’s participation and hindered its efforts at making meaningful contributions.
“Both sides should be responsible for regional peace and security,” he said. “We have called many times on mainland China to be responsible and set aside differences, and eliminate the bias they have with us.”
Dr. Chui-Cheng thanked all the countries that had stood in cohesion with Taiwan under unrelenting pressure from China. His gratitude was echoed in meetings to follow with Bill Keh-Ming Chen, Director General, Department of Planning in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), as well as Paul Chang, Director-General, Department of International Information Services. Discussions touched on Taiwan’s ongoing developmental support and partnerships with small island states and other allies, numbering 21 as of Nov. 2016. At a meeting with the International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF) representatives highlighted key areas in which Taiwan offered assistance including agriculture, public health, IT, education, and environmental protection. These included, but were not limited to, shared expertise in food security, disease prevention, and quarantine, with an exchange of medical personnel and the facilitation of ICT centers, e-governance, and other aspects.
In many of the countries to which Taiwan is affiliated, building capacity in ICT is paramount for progress and development. Under the Technical Cooperation realm the ICDF has thus far embarked on two projects in Saint Lucia: Fruit and Vegetable Demonstration and Extension Project, now in the second phase, and GINet Government Island-wide Network Project. There are also two projects in Saint Kitts, three in Belize, and two in St Vincent. In total, the two local projects amount to over US$4 million. Both projects are expected to be completed in 2018.
During a press conference with international media, ICDF officials discussed other initiatives under the Technical Cooperation umbrella including the Taiwan Youth Overseas Service (alternative military service) and the Taiwan ICDF Overseas Volunteer Service which falls under the Humanitarian Assistance (public health and capacity building) category. Other divisions include Lending and Investment (financial support) and International Education and Training (scholarship program, professional workshops and overseas Mandarin teaching projects).
Describing students as the driving force of national development, Dr. Lee Pai-po, Deputy Secretary General of the ICDF noted that 21 universities are currently involved in the scholarship program offering 35 courses: 12 bachelor’s, 21 master’s and two Ph.D. programs. Since 1998, 1,720 students have received scholarships, with 175 more to be granted this year.
After an informative session, it was off to the Veterans’ Hospital and, once there, it was immediately clear that the facility was one that valued efficiency and streamlining, and whose operations had benefitted as a result. The bustling hospital saw thousands of patients a day, yet there was absolutely no sign of chaos (a definite contrast to affairs in our part of the world!) The hospital was established in 1959. The visit there was a sharp change of pace in the day’s events and a grim reminder that even the most progressive of societies must face life and death, sickness and health. The Veterans’ Hospital records 30,000 in-patients, and 710,000 out-patients annually, with a staff complement in the thousands. Regarded as one of the best medical facilities in the world (top 15), the facility is the largest in Taiwan. According to Dr. Wui-Chiang Lee, Chief, Department of Medical Affairs and Planning, the hospital has marked a number of firsts, including being the first hospital to use transcranial magnetic stimulation for the treatment of depression. He noted that the Veterans’ Hospital specialized in the administering of emergency medicine, with 230 emergency patients a day. The hospital’s medical chief shared some of the international outreach and developmental efforts in which they are currently engaged, including working closely with the islands of Saint Kitts and of the Republic of Nauru in the Pacific, in diabetes research endeavors. Results of those studies had shown that young people in those territories were prone to diabetes. A reporter from Nauru wanted to know what advice doctors would give to the people of Nauru, as he made it known that on his island, “We don’t grow our own food. There’s nothing fresh on the island; everything is imported.”
The advice was straightforward and a reflection of the research that had already been done in that territory: “Less milk teas and sweet drinks, reduce sugar intake, reduce starch intake, drink more water.”
Words of wisdom well-suited for Saint Lucia which has something of a crisis where diabetes, hypertension and related complications are concerned, particularly when it comes to renal disease and failure, and the difficulty patients face in getting treatment.
“Chronic disease is the main issue,” Dr. Lee noted. “Education is important, from junior and high school. It is harder for adults to change their behavior. When you tell the kids, they will go tell their parents. Children are the most important part and that is the strategy I would like to share with you because it is very important.”
At the Veterans’ Hospital, thousands of patients receive dialysis per year, which amounts to a figure in the billions footing their health bill. Officials shared that the hospital is currently in the process of helping in the establishment of the CKD Dialysis Centre in Saint Kitts.
A number of hospitals in Taiwan collaborate with medical facilities in small island states. As far as Saint Lucia is concerned, the Changhua Christian Hospital offers assistance in a number of areas including capacity building and training. St Jude Hospital has been a benefactor of assistance from Changhua in areas including health information systems, administration, biomedical and first response services.
By the end of the tour of the state-of-the-art hospital, it was clear just how much of a significant role hospitals in Taiwan play in the development of medical research, training, and facilitation for small island states, and the advancements that have already been made because of their consistent efforts. However, for journalists who had traveled tens of thousands of miles for the experience, this was only the beginning!
A version of this article was originally printed in the St. Lucia Star.