More children are smiling in Thailand as a result of the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s One Country, One Center initiative. (Photo courtesy of Changhua Christian Hospital)
Taiwan’s medical cooperation with NSP target countries is improving lives and regional health.
Dr. Pham Nhu Ngoc, a cardiologist of three years’ standing at Ho Chi Minh City-based Thu Duc District Hospital in Vietnam, is a walking, talking advertisement for the success of Taiwan government efforts to build better tomorrows for the people of New Southbound Policy (NSP) target countries.
Undergoing six months of specialized training at Taipei Veterans General Hospital (TVGH) until March, Pham is impressed with the facility’s equipment, services, personnel, and deeply entrenched culture of commitment. “As my area of expertise is cardiac postoperative care, I’m excited to learn how to manage common complications like bleeding and respiratory problems,” she said.
According to Pham, TVGH’s program goes beyond enhancing clinical knowledge. “Practicing English is a big bonus, as is adapting to new working conditions and procedures,” she said. “Taiwan is a beautiful country in which to learn and upgrade my skill sets.”
To date, more than 40 Vietnamese doctors have participated in the TVGH program for periods of one to six months. The hospital also sends its senior surgeons to Vietnam to conduct demonstrations, as well as organizes seminars showcasing Taiwan-made medical devices and pharmaceuticals. These undertakings are implemented under the One Country, One Center (OCOC) initiative launched by the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) in June 2018.
Dr. Pham Nhu Ngoc from Vietnam, right, is undergoing six months of specialized cardiology training at Taipei Veterans General Hospital. (Photo by Chen Mei-ling)
OCOC is an NSP-centric platform for assessing market opportunities and medical regulations, establishing culturally sensitive treatment environments and providing health consultation services for Taiwan businesspeople. A key plank in the government’s national development strategy, NSP seeks to deepen Taiwan’s agricultural, business, cultural, education, tourism and trade ties with 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states, six South Asian countries, Australia and New Zealand.
Seven medical centers take part in OCOC, with each concentrating on an NSP target country: Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in New Taipei City, Malaysia; Changhua Christian Hospital (CCH) in the central Taiwan county, Thailand; Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital in eastern Taiwan, the Philippines; National Cheng Kung University Hospital in southern Taiwan’s Tainan City, India; National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei, Indonesia; Shin Kong Wu Ho-Su Memorial Hospital in Taipei, Myanmar; and TVGH in partnership with veterans general hospitals in central Taiwan’s Taichung City, southern Taiwan’s Kaohsiung City as well as National Yang-Ming University in Taipei, Vietnam.
Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (Photo by Chen Mei-ling)
MOHW Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) views OCOC as an effective way of sharing Taiwan’s health care experiences and know-how. “Another goal is to connect people, markets and supply chains while cultivating talent and increasing mutual understanding and trust,” he said.
Trainees are more than just an investment in the here and now, Chen said. “They’re expected to double as seed teachers upon returning home, helping amplify the effect of OCOC and opening the door for tie-ups with Taiwan’s medical industry firms throughout the NSP region.”
From January 2018 to July 2019, the medical centers trained 484 medical professionals and assisted 98 Taiwan drug and medical device companies secure orders worth over US$2.2 million. They also signed 78 memorandums of understanding on cooperation with partner hospitals, according to the MOHW.
Facilitating the creation of a regional network for managing communicable diseases is another objective of OCOC. In 2018, Taiwan established partnerships with Indonesia and Vietnam in the control and treatment of dengue fever and tuberculosis, respectively. “Taiwan’s track record in tackling serious public health issues is internationally recognized and respected,” Chen said. “We’re willing and able to share our expertise for the benefit of all.”
Lin Chih-ching (林志慶), director of TVGH International Medical Service Center, is on the same page as Chen. Taiwan is a leader in many key fields, and stands ready to further contribute to raising international health standards, he said. “OCOC offers us the chance to engage in medical diplomacy while giving our staffers additional front-line experience.”
Children are the main beneficiaries of Changhua Christian Hospital free clinics in Thailand. (Photo courtesy of CCH)
The center has implemented cooperative projects with six countries in its 11-year existence. Vietnam is a particularly fruitful staging ground, with TVGH pediatric surgeons earning praise for assisting in liver transplants at Vietnam National Children’s Hospital in Hanoi. In addition, TVGH works with 19 institutions such as Hanoi-based Friendship Hospital, Hanoi Medical University and Thu Duc District Hospital through wide-ranging cooperative agreements.
Digitization is another area in which Taiwan Can Help NSP target countries via the OCOC initiative. CCH has thrown its weight behind the eHealth Strategy developed by Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health. The 2017-2026 plan seeks to harness the power of digital technology to create a more effective medical system.
With 10 branches boasting more than 8,000 employees, CCH is a proven health care performer. In 2017, it built Taiwan’s first green and smart hospital in the western county of Yunlin—a facility utilizing cutting-edge information and communication technology (ICT) and cost-conscious rollout measures. The institution delivers top-notch medical services while serving as a test bed for local businesses to put artificial intelligence solutions, big data analytics and cloud computing methods through their paces before marketplace release.
Young Thai nationals brush up on CCH-instructed oral hygiene techniques. (Photo courtesy of CCH)
Nina Kao (高小玲), chief executive officer of CCH’s Overseas Medical Mission Center, said a core mission involves building a bridge between Taiwan’s smart health care industry and medical institutions in Thailand. This encompasses organizing and participating in corporate visits, industry forums, matchmaking events and trade shows. In addition, CCH holds training courses and study tours for Thai hospital executives in Taiwan, as well as health examinations, lectures and remote treatment for the country’s businesspeople in Thailand.
“OCOC is definitely a move in the right direction given the emergence of Southeast Asia as a potential-laden market,” Ko said, adding that CCH’s participation in the initiative is a win-win for the region and Taiwan. “In fact, our presence in Thailand is also sparking interest in Vietnam for digital-related products and services like diagnostic sets, management systems and robotics.”
This fact is not lost on Alex Hung (洪子仁), administrative deputy superintendent at Shin Kong Wu Ho-Su Memorial Hospital. “We started cooperating with Myanmar Academy of Family Physicians in training personnel and recruiting doctors in 2015,” he said. “The sky really is the limit with what can be achieved in one of the region’s sleeping giants.”
Advanced equipment is helping Shin Kong Wu Ho-Su Memorial Hospital fly the flag abroad for Taiwan’s high-quality health care. (Photo courtesy of Shin Kong Wu Ho-Su Memorial Hospital)
The hospital is uniquely qualified to fly the flag for Taiwan in Myanmar. It has sent medical missions, conducted capacity building and facility upgrade projects, and performed patient referrals and transfers in Palau—one of the country’s Pacific allies—since 2007. These endeavors saw the institution awarded a Friend of Foreign Service Medal for advancing Taiwan’s medical diplomacy by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2018.
“What we want is to replicate our cooperative model with Palau in Myanmar and take it to the next level,” Hung said. “Even more can be accomplished as we share expertise in specific fields such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, health management, ophthalmology and preventive medicine.”
Thirty medical professionals from Myanmar, including administrators, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and technicians, received clinical instruction in using the latest equipment and carrying out treatment last year at the hospital. According to Hung, this engagement is important as it strengthens connections between front-line personnel in both countries, as well as better positions Taiwan to attract some of the 120,000 to 150,000 people of Myanmar traveling abroad for heath checkups and other services per annum.
“Taiwan enjoys a reputation for high-quality services at a reasonable cost,” Hung said. “This advantage, along with the government’s easing of visa requirements for nationals from the region, puts the country in the driver’s seat.” According to the MOHW, 157,000 patients from NSP target countries visited Taiwan for treatment in 2018, up 52 percent from the year before.
OCOC is seen by Minister Chen as Taiwan’s ticket for internationalizing local health care services. “Public and private resources are invested in ensuring the success of the initiative,” he said. “This is a serious commitment that helps people lead healthier lives and powerfully projects the country’s soft power.”
Taiwan medical centers responsible for New Southbound Policy target countries participating in OCOC.