People living in Taitung on average have a lifespan 8.5 years shorter than that of people living in Taipei because of an uneven distribution in health resources, a public health survey has indicated.
According to the report conducted by the Taiwan Association for Promoting Public Health, when comparing areas in the south and the east with cities in the north, residents in Taitung County have the shortest average lifespan when compared with their northern counterparts, followed by people in Hualien County with an average of 7.8 years shorter and Pingtung County with 6.4 years shorter.
The report showed that there were 5,369 deaths in eastern Taiwan and 51,354 deaths in southern Taiwan last year. If health resources across the nation were distributed equally, there would have been 1,911 less deaths in the east and 10,938 less deaths in the south, it showed.
In the report, areas in southern Taiwan refers to Yunlin, Chiayi, Tainan and Pingtung counties as well as Greater Kaohsiung; the east refers to Hualien and Taitung counties; while the north refers to Keelung, Taipei City, New Taipei City (新北市) and Taoyuan County.
Chen Mei-hsia (陳美霞), chairperson of the association, said that the government’s erroneous policies in the past and low public health budget are causing a growing gap in health resources available to people in the north, east and south.
People in the east and south should refuse to be continually treated as second or third-class citizens, Chen said.
According to Chen, the survey primarily uses the “number of avoidable deaths,” a number that references the death rates of other cities to calculate the percentage rate of people whose deaths could have been avoided, to emphasize inequalities in health resources between regions.
According to the report, in comparison with the north, 35.6 percent of deaths last year in the east and 21.3 percent of deaths in the south were avoidable.
The survey also found that the number of avoidable deaths in Kaohsiung, Tainan and Chiayi City showed signs of going down, whereas the numbers of avoidable deaths in Pingtung, Yunlin and -Chiayi County were rising steadily.
Among the counties facing deteriorating health conditions, Yunlin experienced the most drastic worsening in the past decade, the report said, adding that even within the county, health resources varied markedly.
The number of avoidable deaths in Mailiao Township (麥寮) and Taisi Township (台西) compared with the north differed by 30 percent, the report said.
This is because there is little economic development and few investments in Taisi Township, causing the population to drift to other cities and counties, Chen said, adding that the worsening health situation in Mailiao was because of pollution caused by the Formosa Plastics Group’s nearby naphtha cracking plant.
Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良), the association’s consultant and a former health minister, said the government should lead a inter-organization policy discussion to address the uneven distribution of health resources.
Yaung said the public health budget in 2009 received 4.06 percent of the total budget. The public health budget should be growing by 1 percent a year, he said, calling on presidential candidates to propose policy platforms on the issue.
In response, Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬) said because of severe inequalities inherent in the Act Governing the Allocation of Government Revenues and Expenditures (財政收支劃分法), her county’s medical resources were seriously deprived.
Moreover, long-term industrial pollution caused by naphtha cracking plants in the county was also one of the reasons Yunlin faced such a critical situation, she said.
Su called on the government to amend the expenditure allocation act to resolve the unequal distribution of health resources and accept that industrial plants pose a serious health risks for Yunlin residents.
Meanwhile, Taitung County Commissioner Justin Huang (黃健庭) said his county’s medical resources faces shortages that could only be resolved by giving doctors in rural areas a pay increase and calculating their salaries differently so that doctors would be less reluctant to work there.
Hualien County health bureau director Hsu Hsiang-ming (徐祥明) said that difficult travel conditions, a less developed economy and the departure of younger people were all reasons contributing to the growth in the number of avoidable deaths in the county.
Raising education levels, improving the situation of the unemployed and an increase in living quality would all contribute to longer lifespans, he said.
Additional reporting by Yang Yi-chung
Translated by Jake Chung, Staff Writer
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