Mon, May 01, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Budget cut affecting slow learners

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Non-governmental organizations (NGO's) criticized the government on the weekend for slashing the budget needed to offer therapies for children diagnosed as having developmental delays.

The groups indicated that the Legislative Yuan has in this fiscal year removed the fund appropriated for the Department of Health to develop a long-term healthcare system in the community.

As such, 26 developmental delays assessment units in hospitals nationwide have been forced to shut down. Currently, only four units remain operational.

Chen Chie-ru (陳節如), vice chairman of the Parents' Association for Persons with Intellectual Disability (PAPID), said 1,200 developmentally-delayed children living in the Kaohsiung and Pingtung areas can now only go to the unit at Kaohsiung Medical University, whose developmental delay assessment unit remains open.

Recently, however, it has reduced the number of its staff, and parents have to wait for up to three months to have their children examined, she said.

The reason, Chen added, is because Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yi-shi (林益世) proposed to cut and then freeze the NT$133 million (US$4.16 million) budget required to develop the community healthcare system, of which NT$30 million was supposed to be allotted to the assessment units.

Each unit was originally supposed to receive NT$1.2 million to NT$1.5 million to sponsor its therapy program. After the budget amendment, however, only NT$200,000 can be appropriated to each. The fund, according to Chen, cannot even afford to hire a full-time social worker.

"I doubt how long the remaining four units can last," Chen said.

Chen noted that other social groups will join the association in launching a collective protest against the Department of Health if it remains silent.

PAPID's director Lin Shin-chun (林幸君) said at a press conference during the weekend that Taiwan has an estimated 100,000 children who are suffering from developmental delays.

On average, the 26 assessment units nationwide are able to treat 12,000 children a year. Given that current resources have failed to meet the demand, the budget cut is expected to worsen conditions and delay treatment for more children.

"The social resources that would be wasted would be tremendous," Lin said.

The Department of Health said that it would brief the KMT caucus today about the consequences of the budget freeze and will seek support from legislators to resume the fund.

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