Taiwan: Medical Staff Offer Free Health Care in Somaliland
Taiwanese doctors, nurses, pharmacists, medical students and volunteers spent their Lunar New Year holidays in early February offering free health service for needy people in Botswana, a country bordered by South Africa to the south, Namibia to the west, and Zimbabwe to the east.
“I have celebrated the Lunar New Year in Africa since 2003,” said Liu Chi-chun, a Taipei-based dentist and Chairman of Taiwan Root Medical Peace Corps (TRMPC), a non-government and non-profit organization established in 1995.
Over the past 16 years, the TRMPC has finished 229 medical missions at home and abroad in more than 45 poor countries such as Macedonia in Southeastern Europe; Liberia, Swaziland, Madagascar, Senegal, Malawi, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Gambia and Somaliland in Africa; Mongolia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka, Kashmir and Afghanistan in Asia; Nauru and Solomon Islands in Oceania; the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Panama, Nicaragua and Haiti in Central America; and Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador, and the Amazon River Basin in South America.
Patients in these economically underdeveloped countries often came to ask for help on foot or by donkey cart.
“Some of these nations are unfamiliar to most Taiwanese,” Liu said, adding that local people always mistake Somaliland for Somalia — where pirates off the Somali coast have recently threatened international fishing vessels.
Somaliland, a little-known and unrecognized sovereign state in the world, declared its independence from war-ravaged Somalia in 1991 and has not been formally recognized by all countries except Ethiopia.
One day in May 2005, Liu received an e-mail from Farah Ali of Somaliland saying, “We both are orphans in the international community. Nevertheless, you have 20 some friends and you are rich, we only have one friend and we are poor. And the things you do are what my people need. Can you come to help us?”
Without medical staff, equipment and resources, the African country hardly provided basic health service for its people. One hospital, for example, has only 10 doctors due to budget constraints and doctors in the public hospitals only earn US$50 a month. The ratio of an eye specialist to patients is 1:200,000.
“Like most people, I knew little about Somaliland. But people deserve medical care regardless of race, religion, or politics,” said Liu, who decided to help the country train local nurses, dentists and surgeons after a visit to Somaliland in 2006.
In late February 2007, he led a 24-member team, including dentists, pediatricians, physicians, surgeons, pharmacists, nurses, laboratory technicians and volunteers, to the poor country for a two-week medical mission. […]
While offering free medical services for poor countries, doctors may have mixed feelings because they see their patients die. With flea bites and sleep deprivation, they get exhausted very soon.
“Our doctors, nurses and volunteers sacrifice their 7-10 days of annual leave to help needy people from Taiwan and overseas,” the TRMPC chairperson said. “Each international medical mission such as an African trip costs them NT$75,000 – a two-month pay of a registered nurse in a hospital.”
“In Taiwan, doctors are expected to earn loads of money. Doing volunteer work, I may make less money than them, but I’m happier because I have lots of good friends from around the globe.”
In December 1995, Liu embarked on his first voluntary medical mission to a native tribe in Jianshih Township, Hsinchu County. Since then, he has gained practical experience of many unforgettable medical services worldwide, including the TRMPC’s first international aid program at a Kosovar refugee camp in Macedonia in 1999.
Liu even mortgaged his house to support his organization’s medical missions. And his son and daughter studying in college in the U.S. always take their friends every summer vacation to work as volunteers on medical missions to Central and Southern American countries.
“My next goal is to provide our services for people in the Caucasus area such as Georgia.”