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Remarks by President Ma at 2013 Global Health Forum in Taiwan

Dr. Chiu Wen-Ta (邱文達), Minister of Health and Welfare of the Republic of China,
The Honorable Alvina Reynolds, Health Minister of St. Lucia,
The Honorable Gregorio Ngirmang, Health Minister of Palau,
The Honorable David Kabua, Health Minister of Marshall Islands,
The Honorable Kautu Tenaua, Health Minister of Kiribati,

Good morning, everybody!

I'm very delighted to be here with you today at the 2013 Global Health Forum in Taiwan, sponsored jointly by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On behalf of the government and people of the Republic of China, I would like to give you my warmest welcome.

With international ties growing closer by the day, health issues have come to transcend national borders, and potentially pose global threats to everyone. This highlights the importance of global sharing of health information.

In 2005, our Department of Health [now the Ministry of Health and Welfare] and Ministry of Foreign Affairs joined hands to hold this forum for health leaders from all over the world.

This is the eighth consecutive year that this forum has been held. It has been attended so far by more than 300 senior health officials from 80 countries, and has come to be highly regarded in the international health community. This highlights the importance of Taiwan in the Asia-Pacific and global health networks.

Today, I am going to focus on just the following aspects: our National Health Insurance system; our obesity control program; our mental health program; the prevention of drunk driving; and our international assistance program.

Let me first say a few words about our National Health Insurance program.

This single-payer insurance program, launched in 1995, covers 99.6% of our population, and it is now recognized as a model for the world. In a March 2012 news program focusing on health insurance systems around the world, the American cable news network CNN included Taiwan among the three most successful countries in the world, along with Switzerland and Great Britain. And among these three countries, the healthcare expenditures of ordinary citizens are the lowest in Taiwan.

In 2011, our National Health Insurance Administration received over 400 visits by officials from 22 countries. They had come to learn about our health insurance system.

On this past January 1, we reduced our National Health Insurance premium rate for regular income from 5.17% to 4.91%. At the same time, we introduced a supplementary premium for other types of income, and this has generated almost NT$27 billion in supplementary premiums as of the end of October. As a result, the National Health Insurance Reserve Fund, which had a balance of NT$20 billion at the end of last year, went up to NT$71 billion as of the end of September. Assuming the regular premium rate stays at 4.91%, it appears that the National Health Insurance Reserve Fund will remain solvent until at least 2016. Obviously, this is good news to everyone.

The second-generation National Health Insurance system that we have in place puts more emphasis on meeting the needs of the underprivileged. For people who fall behind on premium payments, we help them make payments by providing government subsidies, interest-free loans, installment plans, and referrals to charitable organizations. For documented hardship cases, we also provide assurances of medical care to persons who have not paid their premiums. A total of 2.8 million people benefit from these programs. And our second-generation National Health Insurance also, for the first time, covers the 61,000 prison inmates.

The second issue I want to talk about is the anti-obesity program.

In Taiwan, one out of two male adults is overweight, one out of three female adults is overweight, and one out of four kids is overweight. This is indeed a national security crisis.

In 2011, our Health Promotion Administration launched a Healthy Weight Management Program to encourage citizens to "eat smart, stay active, and weigh yourself every day." Some 1.5 million people have taken part in the program during the first two years and brought their body weight down by a combined total of 2,200 metric tons, which means an average weight loss of almost 1.5 kilograms per participant. The percentage of citizens who exercise regularly has increased from 20% in 2007 to 30% last year. The term "regular exercise" means that they exercise three times a week, and 30 minutes per session. As president of this country, in charge of national security affairs, I personally joined the campaign and generously contributed at least four kilograms of excess weight to make the program a greater success.

Number three, I want to talk about mental health, particularly the decline in the suicide rate.

In the area of mental health, Taiwan launched a suicide prevention program in 2005. The suicide rate peaked in 2006 at 19.3 per 100,000 population. That means, 4,406 people died that year as the result of suicide. Last year, the percentage went down to 16.2 per 100,000. This is the third-best rate in Asia, and ranks Taiwan ahead of South Korea and Japan. Suicide has been off the list of the top ten causes of death here since 2010. Through the first eight months of this year, there were 2,123 suicides in Taiwan, down by 529, or 20%, from 2,652 in the same period last year. So we are cautiously optimistic that we will have a new record-low this year.

The number four topic I want to touch on is prevention of drunk driving.

In 2011, two years ago, 20% of all fatal traffic accidents in Taiwan were caused by drunk driving, which is why I personally called a meeting of experts and decided to adopt a "zero tolerance" policy. The maximum blood alcohol level was lowered to 0.03%, which is even lower than the standard in the United States and the European Union. In addition, our traffic police have set up many checkpoints in order to vigorously implement and enforce the new drunk driving control policy.

From January through October this year, we have seen violations go down and prosecutions go up. The best news is that fatalities in alcohol-related crashes decreased by 34%. In other words, 105 fewer people have died than during the same period last year, the greatest decrease in many years.

The peak year was 2006, when 727 people died due to drunk driving. But last year, the number went down to 376, so we cut the number almost by half. This year, if we work harder this month and next month, we will be able to cut the number of deaths to lower than 260. That would be lower even than the year of 1988.

This is something we're trying to do at home, but we also believe that it is very important for us to share our experiences with the rest of the world. So we have dispatched medical missions to our diplomatic allies in Africa, Central America, and the Pacific Islands in order to help them fight parasites, hypertension, diabetes, and other diseases. All these programs have generated very successful results.

From our own experience, we understand only too well how important it is to train personnel. In 2002, our Ministry of Health and Welfare [then the Department of Health] established the Taiwan International Health Training Center, which has so far trained 827 health workers from 47 countries. Training programs focus on national health insurance, hospital management, traditional medicine, and other areas where our nation is in an especially strong position to help our partners develop future leaders in the fields of medicine and public health. All of this I've just mentioned provides clear proof of Taiwan's sincere intention to be a serious provider of international humanitarian aid.

In conclusion, I look forward to a very successful forum today, and wish all of you success, good health, and prosperity. Last but not least, I would advise you, if you could find time in your very busy schedule in Taiwan, please go visit the National Palace Museum to appreciate our past. And go visit a night market to see the daily life of Taiwan. Of course, everywhere you go, you should do as much shopping as possible to help our economy.

Thank you very much!

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