Thirty years ago, before she dyed her hair pink to cover up the white, Dr. Huei-wen Tien came to Xiulin, a township on the east coast of Taiwan severed from the island’s urban centers by a formidable mountain range.
She had agreed to serve for 10 years in an aboriginal community in exchange for her medical education. Unconventional by nature — her motorcycle helmet says “Punk” — Tien says she wanted a challenge. She found one here, where about 15,000 people, mostly of the Taroko tribe, live near the lush gorges of a national park that shares their name.
Diabetes, alcoholism, and heart disease are common problems among the Taroko. The indigenous people have endured displacement, forced assimilation, and discrimination over the centuries. They are also poorer than the ethnically Han Chinese who make up most of Taiwan’s population.
But they never have to worry about one thing: their health care. In Taiwan, everybody is covered. The Taiwanese health care system is built on the belief that everyone deserves health care, in Xiulin just as much as anywhere else. The costs to patients are minimal. And the government has set up special programs to deliver care to the people in Xiulin and their neighbors in Hualien County. ….more