Sat, Nov 30, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Medical diplomacy helps soft power

By Manik Mehta

Even though some countries have severed ties with Taiwan under the influence of China’s aggressive “checkbook diplomacy,” Taiwan has left a mark on the international community, including in countries that do not maintain formal ties with it, by cooperating on medical technology and healthcare issues.

Despite China’s attempts to isolate Taiwan internationally, the latter wields considerable global soft power by pursuing what is described as “medical diplomacy” with many countries that are eager to learn from Taiwan’s experience in the sector and apply it for the welfare of their people.

Medical diplomacy is the key that can unlock doors for Taiwan and put it on a high pedestal in the eyes of the world — even without the recognition of the UN. There is widespread acknowledgement of Taiwan’s technological contribution, particularly the use of artificial intelligence, in the field of medicine and healthcare.

The just-concluded MEDICA trade fair — the world’s biggest trade fair for medical devices — in Dusseldorf, Germany, had a large contingent of Taiwanese companies showcasing a wide range of medical devices and accessories. The huge Taiwan pavilion at the trade show was flooded with visitors from around the world, including, ironically, a few from mainland China, which has, otherwise, campaigned aggressively to isolate Taiwan.

Medical experts in Southeast Asian countries, for example, are impressed by Taiwan’s achievements in medicine and the support technology, and research and development.

Indeed, patients from these countries visit Taiwan to seek good and affordable medical treatment. Many of Taiwan’s hospitals are known to doctors and healthcare experts in Southeast Asia, some of whom even recommend patients to receive specialized treatment in Taiwan. Taiwanese medical experts visiting New York to participate in discussions with American experts at healthcare events say that Taiwan’s aim is to become Asia’s medical hub, pointing out that its hospitals use state-of-the-art medical technology, deploying virtual reality neuronavigation.

A Malaysian businessman at MEDICA, preferring to remain anonymous, told me that he frequently meets Taiwanese medical experts to update himself on advancements in medicine and compare them with the medical advancements in his own country.

He cited the example of Taipei Veterans General Hospital, which seems to have impressed many Southeast Asians with its excellence in treating patients with arrhythmia through a radiofrequency ablation technique. Doctors use a 3D mapping system during the catheter ablation to precisely identify the source of the arrhythmia.

This, he said, was a major breakthrough and a welcome change from the past risky procedure entailing cutting into the heart to map its irregularities. The use of the 3D mapping system — a less invasive procedure — helps the doctors identify the heart’s irregularities.

Taiwan’s medical diplomacy operates in tandem with its New Southbound Policy, which aims to forge closer ties and cooperation with countries in the southern hemisphere of the Indo-Pacific region — particularly, South and Southeast Asian countries, and Australia and New Zealand.

Last year alone, Taiwan received 103,241 foreigners who came to receive medical treatment, with Indonesian patients accounting for 24 percent. In August, the number of Indonesian patients reached 26 percent of the 100,373 international patients for this year.

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