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Taiwanese surgeon leads medical team on Africa mission

Taiwanese surgeon leads medical team on Africa mission

By Fanny Liu CNA Staff Writer A well-known Taiwanese surgeon who has spent all his annual leave for nearly a decade offering free treatment in less-developed countries, has decided to lead a medical team on a one-year mission to one of the smallest countries in Africa.
Chang Yu-tai, who has been working at the Taipei City Hospital's Hoping branch for over 20 years, will leave next month for Sao Tome and Principe, a Portuguese-speaking island country off the west coast of Africa.
This will be Chang's longest overseas mission to date. Over the past 13 years, he has been to seven other African countries and a dozen Asian and Central and South American countries to offer free medical services. All those trips, however, have lasted for less than two weeks.
Chang said his experience of providing short term medical services in African countries has left him with only a shallow understanding of those countries.
"I need to stay longer so that I can have a deeper understanding of their situations and their needs," he said.
Chang, along with another three doctors and two nurses, will help doctors in Sao Tome and Principe to treat patients and will also train medical staff to enhance the level of health care in the country.
"We can actually play a bigger role in a small country with a small population, " said Chang, adding that once local doctors and other medical staff have been trained, most people in the country will benefit and the Taiwanese medical team will be able to perform better.
According to Taipei Medical University's international office, which organizes the Taiwanese medical teams that are sent to Africa -- including a seven-member team stationed in Swaziland -- Sao Tome and Principe suffers from an extreme lack of medical and health care resources, with just 22 doctors to take care of a population of 160,000.
The six-member Taiwanese medical team will need to help treat patients with malaria and infection by the vibrio bacteria, TMU officials said.
The 57-year-old Chang is no stranger to malaria and in fact was infected during a stint in Malawi in 2004 that almost killed him.
Less than a year later, when the South Asia tsunami struck in December that year, Chang immediately organized a medical aid team that went to Sri Lanka for rescue and treatment work.
In 2003, Taiwan experienced a series of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreaks, and the Municipal Hoping Hospital (now the Taipei City Hospital Hoping branch) suffered the first and most serious outbreak.
Chang, who was the director of the hospital's emergency room at that time, stayed at the hospital from the first day the hospital was forced into isolation until it re-opened two weeks later.
He has also gone to various disaster areas in Taiwan after earthquakes or typhoons and in fact his colleagues say that every time a natural disaster occurs in Taiwan, Chang will always be at the scene soon afterward.
Chang's medical career began in 1975 in Japan, where he studied medical science and started his own practice, specializing in endocrine surgery and breast surgery before returning to Taiwan in 1990. He later moved into emergency care and at the same time, started to offer free treatment to people in need.
"As a specialist, I cannot provide enough help to people in emergencies, so I need to equip myself with more abilities to deal with those situations," Chang said.
Chang also expressed hope that young doctors and hospital staff, by taking part in medical missions -- can develop stronger spirit under difficult circumstances with limited medical resources.
As an example, he went on, diagnosing and treating victims of car accidents with just bare hands can be a massive challenge.
Chang also said that with power supplies expected to become more stable in Sao Tome and Principe, he hopes to be able to use the Internet to conduct video conferences so that more local people can be trained remotely in the future.
"I feel I am lucky to be able to help other people, " said Chang, who has won numerous awards throughout his career -- including the Medical Devotion Award and the Meritorious Service Award in 2007, and the Medical Profession Award in 2006.





Updated : 2021-03-04 08:20 GMT+08:00