Championing the Drive for Liver Health

In its section of AmCham Taipei’s 2018 Taiwan White Paper, the Chamber’s Public Health Committee encouraged Taiwan to adopt the goal of developing itself into a “Liver Health Center of Excellence in Asia.” Taiwan, after all, has a strong background in combating diseases of the liver, which are particularly prevalent in the Asian region. As far back as the 1980s, Taiwan played a pioneering role in introducing a national hepatitis B vaccination program that has been highly successful in bringing the malady under control in this country. Currently the government is taking aim at eradicating hepatitis C, and has devoted increased budget to screening and treatment programs.

Last month the Public Health Committee’s idea was carried a step further when AmCham Taipei joined forces with the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) and the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) to sponsor a half-day Taiwan Liver Health Forum featuring presentations by leading specialists in the healthcare community. Taiwan’s Vice President, Chen Chien-jen – an epidemiologist by training and an expert in hepatitis research – delivered the keynote address.

Many of the speakers and panelists emphasized the importance of increasing the amount of screening to detect the presence of the hepatitis C virus, since drugs with a high rate of effectiveness are now available. Although the initial cost of such a program may be steep, over time the program would more than pay for itself as rates of infection decline and productivity is enhanced.

In his presentation, the Vice President noted the long-standing cooperation between the United States and Taiwan in the fight against hepatitis. He paid tribute to Dr. Baruch Blumberg (1925-2011) of the U.S. National Institutes of Health and to Dr. R. Palmer Beasley (1936-2012), a University of Washington epidemiologist who spent 15 years in Taiwan affiliated with the U.S. Naval Medical Research facility. Blumberg, a Nobel laureate in medicine in 1976, was the first to identify the hepatitis B virus and later developed its diagnostic test and vaccine. He visited Taiwan frequently and was elected as an honorary academician of Academia Sinica. Building on Blumberg’s work, Beasley’s research provided proof of the transmission of hepatitis B from mother to infant – paving the way for the vaccination program that has enabled that chain to be broken.

In opening remarks for the Forum, AIT Director W. Brent Christensen also noted the U.S. connection, noting that American pharmaceutical and biotech companies have been at the forefront of developing advanced technologies that are contributing to the fight against hepatitis. He also emphasized that Taiwan has an opportunity to serve as a model for the rest of Asia through its efforts to control liver diseases before those conditions develop into deadly liver cancer.

AmCham Taipei is proud to be among those taking a leading role in the liver health initiative and to help in showcasing Taiwan’s achievements in this field and its continuing contributions through clinical research. As long-term corporate citizens of Taiwan, our member companies have a strong stake in the welfare of the Taiwan public. A healthy citizenry helps ensure a stable and prosperous society.