Affordable Universal Health Coverage ─ Taiwan can help

The September 2015 UN Summit adopted the post-2015 development agenda and addressed the need to expand upon the Millennium Development Goals by delineating Sustainable Development Goals via the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Among the goals laid out, the third mandates good health and well-being for all at all ages, pledging to promote sustainable development in a way that leaves no one behind. While the Republic of China (Taiwan) is not represented in the UN, it is a member of the global family. Taiwan wishes to continue to share its medical resources to contribute to the health of all people as well as work with the international community to attain the SDGs.

This website highlights Taiwan’s longstanding contributions aimed at realizing SDG 3 concerning global healthcare. Universal health coverage (UHC) is a core target prioritized by the World Health Organization (WHO) in achieving SDG 3. The site thus also introduces Taiwan’s single-payer national healthcare system, which was the first to be implemented in Asia. Also addressed is Taiwan’s willingness to share its success with UHC and biomedical technology as it commits to achieving the SDG and realizing a dream humanity has long aspired to.

By WHO definition, UHC means ensuring that all people and communities can obtain the promotive, preventative, curative, rehabilitative and palliative health services they need without suffering financial hardship. At least half the world’s population lacks access to essential health services, such as trained midwifery, vaccination for children, and AIDS treatment. Every second, three people around the world fall into financial difficulties due to illness, causing countless family tragedies. UHC is, therefore, both an ethical and human rights issue.

In the postwar years, Taiwan was impoverished, sanitation was a nightmare, and contagious diseases bedeviled the population. A step-by-step effort by medical professionals aided by the WHO meant the gradual eradication of malaria, smallpox, polio, and other infectious diseases in Taiwan, creating a medical miracle. To realize social fairness and prevent poverty caused by disease, the government of Taiwan dispatched a host of difficulties and introduced a national health insurance program in 1995, becoming the first nation in Asia to do so. In 2016, this program’s expenditures accounted for only 6.3 percent of Taiwan’s GDP, far lower than the average 9 percent for developed nations. It raised the average life expectancy to 80 years, while reducing the health gap between rich and poor as well as urban and rural communities. It is supported by 85 percent of the people.

Today Taiwan has evolved into an advanced nation in terms of public health and medical technology. It was the fourth country in the world, and the first in Asia, to establish a ratings system for its medical centers. In medical technology, Taiwan has the honor of claiming the first heart and kidney transplant in Asia, as well as the first juvenile liver transplant and autotransplantation of small intestine for vocal cord reconstruction in the world. In addition to establishing the first craniofacial center in Southeast Asia, it also boasts leading medical technology and an advanced epidemic prevention system to deal with emerging infectious diseases. Moreover, it employs the latest technology in liver transplant, reconstructive microsurgery, assisted reproduction, and joint replacement. Taiwan has been called by The Economist the second-healthiest country on the planet. And, on January 25, 2017, Taiwan established the Biomedical Industry Innovation Program Center, which is mandated to work for the better health of all people.

From humble beginnings, Taiwan has accumulated a wealth of medical knowledge that it has been proud to share with the world. These efforts began with the dispatch of medical missions in 1962, and have continued unabated. In 1996, the Taiwan International Cooperation and Development Fund (Taiwan ICDF) was established to execute the government’s foreign aid programs including medical and public health humanitarian assistance abroad. In 2006, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Health and Welfare established Taiwan International Health Action (TaiwanIHA), which taps into public and private resources to provide emergency medical aid and to deliver related goods whenever disaster strikes anywhere around the world. In cooperation with domestic hospitals and private organizations, both domestic and foreign, TaiwanIHA dispatches medical teams, donates medical equipment, trains medical personnel, offers scholarships, and provides humanitarian aid worldwide; in so doing it helps underdeveloped and developing nations improve public health and enhance their capacities for medical care.

Taiwan’s private organizations have grown prodigiously since the 1990s, and often send humanitarian medical teams abroad to work in disadvantaged communities. Their commitment to saving lives has done them, and the nation, proud. Moreover, thanks to the generous donations by the people of Taiwan, indigent patients travel from around the world to Taiwan for treatment of various serious ailments. In 2016, for example, a young girl from Vietnam with lymphatic filariasis, as well as a Cambodian boy with a congenital heart problem, were successfully treated in Taiwan.

In monetary terms, since 1996, Taiwan has invested over US$6 billion in international medical and humanitarian aid efforts that have benefited millions of people directly or indirectly in over 80 countries.

Special thanks are due to those organizations that provided materials and photographs for this website. It is to be hoped that this will prove convincing enough of an introduction to Taiwan’s contributions to global health that the world’s nations will see fit to bring Taiwan fully into the world health system.

Beginning in 2009, the WHO invited Taiwan to participate in the WHA for eight consecutive years, bridging the gap in global health cooperation and epidemic prevention. Taiwan has won widespread international recognition for its professional participation.

Despite obstacles, the nation looks for continued participation, with the support of the international community and all relevant parties, in WHA and WHO related meetings, mechanisms, and activities in line with the principles of professionalism, pragmatism, and making contributions, and seeks to work together with countries worldwide to realize the UN Sustainable Development Goals as soon as possible.