Interview with Dr Hou-Chaung Chen, an orthopedist at Taichung Hospital and medical team leader of Taiwan International Health Action

Dr Hou-Chaung Chen is young and dynamic; he has been chosen as one of Ten Outstanding Young Persons in Taiwan of 2007. We wanted to know more about this impressive young Doctor who tends to be very humble about his achievements. We hope that you will be as impressed as us.
Dr Chen what is your background?
I am an orthopedics surgeon. I graduated from National Yang-Ming University, Taiwan, and received specialist training of orthopedics in Taipei Veteran General Hospital, one of the best medical centers in Taiwan. Soon after my specialist training, I spent two years serving in Mzuzu Central Hospital in Malawi, Africa, as an orthopedics consultant. Currently, I am an orthopedist at Taichung Hospital and serve as the medical team leader of Taiwan International Health Action (TaiwanIHA).
You are an orthopedic doctor, but you also tend to be a member of many emergency missions. Why do you accept to go on these types of missions?
I believe that as a member of the global society, we all have a responsibility to make a contribution to the world in order to make this world a better place to live. Based on this belief, I am willing to carry on emergency missions as long as my condition permits it. During the year 2006, TaiwanIHA has completed eight humanitarian assistance missions around the world. We have worked in Indonesia after the earthquake, at the Kenyan border near Somalia for the unusual flooding, on remote islands of the Solomon Islands after the tsunami, and in Peru after the earthquake.
Could you tell us about some of your experiences in this field?
I always remember a young girl whom I treated when I just arrived at Mzuzu, Malawi. When she visited me at the clinic the first time with a big mass over her lower leg, it was almost as big as a football; I was very shocked. It was a bone tumor, this is a very bad and high mortality disease. Unfortunately, the only treatment to save her life was amputation of the lower right limb. Her family could not afford other medicinal options such as chemotherapy. The operation was completed a few days later. The tumor was removed, but the girl had also lost her leg. Unfortunately, she died from multiple metastases one year after the amputation.
According to scientists, we will most probably face more and more emergencies in the years to come. Do you have any advice based on your experience that you would like to share with us?
From the experience of my past humanitarian work, I think that the global climate change would make natural disasters occur more and more frequently and the developing countries would suffer the most from its consequences. I believe we should dedicate more of our efforts to environmental protection, to reduce CO2 emissions in the hope of reducing the chances for abnormal natural disasters to occur.
Based upon your experience, do you think that the private and the public sectors would work well together when it comes to providing medical assistance in disaster relief?
Most of the time, humanitarian assistance requires work in very complex and difficult situations, this is especially true when working in a foreign country. The relief team can only carry on its tasks under such difficult conditions when the public and private sectors work together. While the private sector is quick and flexible in its structure and emergency response, the public sector usually has better connections with the local government and organizations to call out for assistance.
You were selected as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons in Taiwan of 2007. What did you do to deserve this distinction?
I thank God for bringing this honor to me, and also my family for their support over these many years. I also thank my colleagues in Taiwan IHA, who helped me carry-on my emergency missions in Indonesia for the earthquake, at the border of Kenya near Somalia for unusual flooding, on remote islands of Solomon Islands for tsunami, and in Peru after the earthquake.
Most people, especially in the Western world, tend to « forget » the dangers of AIDS and therefore, they pay less attention to the dangers than in the 1990s. Do you think the message of prevention is not presented thoroughly, or as well as in those days, and what are the reasons behind this phenomenon?
Indeed, I think the message of AIDS prevention is not going through to the public as well as before. I think to a great extent, this phenomenon has something to do with the invention of new drugs for AIDS. This makes people believe AIDS is curable and hence, pay less attention to its dangers.
You have spent quite some time on the African continent in your career. What is the situation like, and what would you say are the main health threats for the Africans? How can people help?
For example, Malawi has a high mother and infant mortality rate as a result of the lack of obstetricians. Furthermore, malaria kills over one million Africans annually. In fact, these medical and health problems can be easily addressed by simple means, perhaps by offering obstetrician training to local medical staff and by using environmental friendly insecticide to kill the mosquitoes spreading the malaria and by providing treatment for patients already infected. People can help by supporting the organizations that are involved in the relevant humanitarian assistance in Africa and also by calling on their government to provide medical-care support to African countries.
In the western societies acupuncture and other types of traditional medicinal practices are gaining in popularity among the population. What do you think of this evolution and what do you do in your daily work to encourage the use of traditional medicine?
I view traditional medicinal practices as the accumulation of medical knowledge from past generations. This evolution says that the public has become more aware of the huge potential of traditional medicinal practices that can be used to improve our health or to cure severe diseases. In my case, I substitute acupuncture for pain-relief medicine when possible.
The World Health Assembly’s Resolution on Traditional Medicine (WHA 56.31) calls for countries to respect traditional medicine and to implement a strategy to promote it. In recent years, traditional medicine has become a part of Taiwan’s mainstream healthcare. Its achievements and experiences has allowed Taiwan’s traditional medicine to become a vanguard globally, with many professionals coming to Taiwan from abroad to make observations and seek assistance.
Taiwan seeks to promote its healthcare assistance and strengthen its international cooperation on traditional medicine. As a result, TaiwanIHA convened the 2006 CAM/TM Professional Training Program, including acupuncture and traditional herbal medicines in Taiwan in 2006. Besides sharing Taiwan’s experience in this area, this particular experience is a model for developing Taiwan’s traditional medicine; the program further assisted other countries pursuing the development of their own traditional medicine to construct a related management system.
This training camp aided in strengthening medical and health cooperation between Taiwan and its diplomatic allies, while raising the image of Taiwan’s health standards abroad. In the meantime, the program also helped promote traditional medicine internationally and expressed Taiwan’s willingness and ability to contribute to realizing WHA resolutions.
Diva is a magazine dedicated to the international community. Do you have a particular message to its readers?
Our organization, TaiwanIHA, serves as a platform for Taiwan’s public and private sectors to work closely with the global health system. It has been actively promoting and participating in international medical and health cooperation. We hope that through Diva magazine the global community can understand Taiwan’s efforts and contributions, embrace Taiwan and work with it in the areas of health, human rights, and for the well-being of all peoples around the world.