Taiwan’s foremost foreign aid organization is boosting public health and medical training in partner nations across the globe.
Nebie Boubie, a health official and midwife from Burkina Faso in West Africa, spent three months from March to June last year receiving on-the-job instruction in modern procedures and technologies at a medical facility in eastern Taiwan’s Hualien County. According to the 40-year-old, the training program, implemented by Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital in collaboration with the Taipei City-based International Cooperation and Development Fund (TaiwanICDF), greatly strengthened his clinical knowledge and skills, while offering an up-close look at the nation’s advanced health information infrastructure.
“What impressed me most was the humanistic, caring and holistic approach to patient care adopted by the devoted and qualified medical staff,” he said. “Taiwan’s health care system is very efficient and well structured. Its National Health Insurance system provides most people with access to health care and is worthy of being implemented in low-income countries.”
Boubie has worked for the Burkina Faso Ministry of Health for 17 years and recently joined medical missions to Ethiopia and Sudan organized by the international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders. He said that pregnant women and newborns in his country struggle to gain access to quality medical care due to the “three delays”—delays in deciding to seek care; delays in reaching care; and delays in receiving adequate treatment—as well as financial constraints and insufficient supplies of safe blood.
Taiwan is working with the African nation to address these challenges, Boubie noted. In addition to offering instruction for medical professionals at local hospitals, TaiwanICDF, the nation’s foremost foreign aid organization, is implementing projects in Burkina Faso to improve facilities and clinical skills. These efforts, he said, have already helped reduce maternal and infant mortality rates.
In line with the SDGs, TaiwanICDF is focusing its international medical cooperation on four fields: child and maternal health; prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases; the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases; and the promotion of health information systems. In recent years, the organization has also expanded its overseas medical programs from offering short-term mobile medical missions to administering three- to five-year projects centered on capacity building and facility upgrades.
“The implementation of prevention, early detection and treatment strategies can save lives and significantly reduce medical spending,” Wang said. “So, we’ve been working to establish cooperative relationships between Taiwan hospitals and partner countries to advance such efforts.” The director added that she has been impressed by the enthusiastic participation of local medical institutions.
Dr. Shyu Ming-kwang (徐明洸), director of the Obstetrics Division at National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH) in Taipei, is spearheading a new TaiwanICDF project to improve maternal and infant health outcomes in Guatemala, a diplomatic ally of the Republic of China (Taiwan).
“Our task is to achieve maximum efficiency by making the best use of limited resources,” he said. “Through applying our expertise and experience, we’re confident we can help identify problems, determine priorities and develop solutions.”
Based on Shyu’s findings concerning the lack of equipment, TaiwanICDF is assessing the feasibility of installing cost-effective diagnostic tools at public hospitals, such as fetal monitors and vital signs machines, to help reduce intrapartum stillbirths and manage life-threatening pregnancy complications. Plans are also underway to educate personnel in the use of these devices, with several doctors and nurses scheduled to come to Taiwan this year to participate in a three-month training program at NTUH.
“By providing a little assistance, we can have a big impact on the well-being of local people,” Shyu said. “A doctor’s duty is to save lives. I’m glad to be involved in work that transcends national borders and to use my expertise for the betterment of people in need.”
In addition to training doctors and nurses from Belize at Far Eastern Memorial Hospital, Peng and fellow team members have organized public awareness campaigns in the Central American nation and cooperated with community medical workers to encourage healthy behavior. The major task ahead, the physician said, is to carry out a national screening program for chronic diseases—a fundamental tool of modern public health and preventive medicine vital to the formulation of effective health promotion strategies.
Peng noted that the central government, local communities and medical personnel in Belize have given their full support to TaiwanICDF-initiated projects. “It’s a great feeling to work hand in hand with the [Belize] government toward a common goal and know that my skills are serving a greater good,” he said. “I hope our assistance projects can promote Taiwan’s strength in medical care as well as enhance bilateral ties.”
Tseng Ching-ping (曾景平), deputy director of the Information Technology Department at Cathay General Hospital, is responsible for the design and implementation of the project. He said that the current handwritten documentation process used at many Paraguayan hospitals is a major cause of poor operational performance and service quality.
According to Tseng, Taiwan is ideally placed to help address these deficiencies given the rapid development in its health information and management systems since the implementation of hospital accreditation and certification in 1988 and the launch of the National Health Insurance system in 1995. “We can help close gaps in primary care delivery by sharing our experience and know-how.”
Under the project, Tseng and his team are assisting in the establishment of HIS infrastructure at public hospitals in three regions of Paraguay, namely Alto Parana, Canindeyu and Guaira, while also training staff in the use of such systems. As of the end of last year, eight engineers and managers had visited Taiwan to attend a two-month training program at Cathay General Hospital on computer programming, e-learning course design and systems administration.
“Decades ago, foreign missionaries made significant contributions to the development of modern medical services in Taiwan,” Tseng said. “Now that I’ve got the opportunity to participate in humanitarian aid missions, I feel I have a duty to provide assistance.”