In mid-July, I visited three countries in southern Africa together with some of my co-workers in the Department of Health. After traveling by plane for almost 24 hours, we landed in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, with its yellow earth. After driving 400km along a desolate road running through deserted bush, we arrived in the small northern city of Mzuzu where we visited a dozen or so doctors and nurses from Taiwan to see how they were caring for sick Malawians.
Mzuzu lies in the northernmost region of landlocked Malawi. Of its 400,000 inhabitants, 100,000 are estimated to be either HIV-positive or suffer from AIDS. When the Taiwanese medical team was established there four years ago, there were no modern medical facilities or services in the region. But, after only a few years, the medical team now cares for many poor Malawians in the area.
In the team's area, we saw crowds of AIDS patients, many of whom had walked for two or three days to get there. They waited silently as the team administered what must have seemed to them to be miraculous tests and medicine, before walking home again.
In villages, we also saw groups of small children, cared for by their grandparents. AIDS had killed their parents and many of their friends had also died at a young age.
Malawi cannot train enough doctors and nurses, and the Taiwanese team has repeatedly had to arrange classes to train traditional midwives, teaching older village women who still are strong enough to work. After the short training period is completed, the women are sent back to the villages to care for pregnant women and help Malawi raise a new, strong and healthy generation. Infant mortality rates and mortality rates for mothers giving birth are 200 times the rates in Taiwan.
On the last day of the training period, the women happily set out on a two-day walk back to their village, glad to bring new skills and the bag of medical equipment given to them back to their village.
If this Taiwanese medical team had to leave Malawi, if the people of Taiwan stopped caring, if good people stopped donating funds and if these medical achievements could not be made permanent, would these women then be able to return to their villages? Would they be able to become the saviors of children orphaned by AIDS and men and women robbed of their spouses by the disease?
Why does Taiwan engage in international medical aid? It is not just to consolidate diplomatic ties or train medical staff for tropical areas. Considering the achievements of Taiwan's doctors, should we really neglect helping nations as poor as Malawi? International medical aid can develop the unlimited potential of Taiwan's younger generation, causing them to turn away from the mere pursuit of materialistic satisfaction and put an end to the unhappiness that has resulted from longstanding international isolation by bringing help to every needy person in this world.
Chang Wu-hsiu is the director of the Bureau of International Cooperation at the Department of Health.
Translated by Perry Svensson