HOOP Health Day: An Interview with the Taiwanese Ambassador

We recently held our first HOOP Health Day, where we conducted health lessons at the school and distributed sixty water filters throughout the community. Meanwhile, we were joined by one of the biggest supporters of HOOP’s health initiatives in Flora Tristán, Mr. Wu from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Peru. Ambassador Wu shared with us his thoughts on Peru and Taiwan’s respective healthcare systems, how a strong investment in education can foster equal opportunity, and even managed to fit in some optimistic words on the future of cross-strait relations.

Ambassador, welcome to HOOP. We’re very happy to have you here.

Thank you, I’m very happy to be here. This is is the first time I’ve come here, to find out more about the projects. I arrived here yesterday for a symposium on solar energy, so I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to also visit HOOP. When Mr. Li (one of HOOP’s founders) visited our office, he presented to us the programs of this organisation. We thought that it was a very good organisation, so we’ve tried our best to help HOOP’s programs here in Arequipa.

Peru’s poorest citizens, about a third of the nation, lack access to basic healthcare services. Would you say this deficiency is primarily due to a lack of resources and financing, or because resources are distributed poorly?

I think on a worldwide level, resources are very limited. For every government, the most important thing is how to allocate resources to better develop the country. The question is how to develop and distribute the existing resources. On a smaller scale, every family also has limited income. Each family has to decide how to invest their income, for example for education or for other things. I think HOOP is doing something very significant to help the poor families with limited resources. I admire very much you young guys who come here from different countries and contribute your resources to help the families here.

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Taiwan has a centralised healthcare system that provides comprehensive health insurance to its citizens (and foreign residents). Can you tell us a little more about Taiwan’s National Health Insurance (NHI) model and what coverage it provides?

I think the healthcare system of Taiwan is one of the best in the world. It’s compulsory. Everybody has to have insurance. We pay very little for our health insurance. We pay about 5% of our income. If a family’s income is below a certain level, then they are exonerated from paying for the insurance. This insurance covers almost everything, except for certain types of medicines. It covers about 95% of medicines and about 99% of doctor’s fees. About twenty years ago, we didn’t have universal health insurance. If a family had an uninsured person, and this person was to have a very grave sickness, it would potentially bankrupt the family. Now, this won’t happen because under the current system, everybody shares the cost.

In light of the success of the Taiwanese system, do you think there are aspects of NHI that could be applied effectively here in Peru?

Peru has a healthcare system where public hospitals offer medical services to the uninsured, but it is not as efficient as far as I know. For example, my housemaid has insurance because she works with us and we offer her insurance, but the majority of housemaids in Peru don’t have health insurance. If they are sick, they go to public hospitals where the service is not good. They may face delays of one month, two months. I think the government of Peru recognises the importance of access to healthcare for all citizens, but the resources are limited and inefficiently distributed.

How can Taiwan and Peru work together to improve Peru’s healthcare system?

Taiwan does not have diplomatic relations with Peru, which is a great limitation. We try to implement some projects within Peru, but these projects have to be done through governments and the government of Peru does not want to accept the offer of these projects. In Central America, we have embassies. We have diplomatic relations with all the Central American countries where we have a lot of projects. For example, I was the ambassador in Nicaragua where we have more than a hundred projects, including cultural projects and medical projects. We helped them build hospitals and clinics, but here in Peru we are unable to do so because the China factor is very important. Of course, last Saturday the presidents of Taiwan and China, Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping, met in Singapore. This was the first meeting after 66 years of separation between Taiwan and China. I think that’s a good start to improve the relations between two sides.

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So far we’ve talked about the government’s role in healthcare. On a smaller scale, what are steps that can be taken at the community level to improve healthcare?

I think on that level, NGOs play a very important role because governments face limitations. In Peru, there are many NGOs or INGOs. And I always say to the authorities here, that the Peruvian government should offer incentives to NGOs to do their work and implement their projects. As far as I know, the government doesn’t offer any incentives like tax exemption, for example. In Nicaragua, INGOs have the status of international organisations. They can buy goods without paying the sales tax. That is a kind of incentive and it saves organisations a lot of money.

In what ways do you think education can improve the health of a community?

Education is the foundation, and that’s recognised by everyone. I do think the quality of education here in Peru is lacking. First and foremost, the government needs to invest money into improving the quality of teachers. In Taiwan, there’s a strong drive to invest in education. For someone to work in the government, they must take an exam. Even if it’s the president’s son who wants to work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he must take the exam. In other democratic countries, there are the three branches of government: the legislature, the judiciary and the executive. In Taiwan, we have five branches or five yuan, one of which is the Examination Yuan. This branch is in charge of the employment of civil servants, which includes the examination system. This examination system creates equality because you don’t need to have a powerful family or a big name to sit an exam. So, there is a strong focus on education and everybody is in agreement that we need to invest greatly in education.

Words by Maggie Shui
Photos by Elise Fjordbakk

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