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August 8, 2005

Taiwan’s Health Minister Returns to Bloomberg School

Sheng Mou Hou

In February, Sheng-Mou Hou, became Taiwan’s tenth Minister of Health and the fourth to have graduated from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Hou recalls joking at the time, “A Hopkins degree may become a prerequisite for this job.”

On August 1, Hou, MD, PhD, MPH, and his wife, Liou Shiow-Wen, MD, PhD, MHS, a health policy graduate of the Bloomberg School, returned to their alma mater to visit with friends and discuss how Taiwan’s Health Ministry and the School could cooperate in the future.

“As a surgeon I looked at the problems of individuals,” said Hou. “Through the MPH [studies], I started to recognize problems through the eyes of the population.”

Hou’s challenge as Health Minister will be to find new ways to finance Taiwan’s public health insurance system, which provides coverage to 99 percent of the public. Hou says he also wants to improve Taiwan’s vaccine production capacity to prevent a potential flu pandemic. According to Hou, Taiwan is a nexus for travelers moving between the East and West. Each year, more than 6 million flights travel through Taiwan. Many originate from the nations where avian flu has been a problem, such as neighboring Vietnam. Hou says Taiwan must act as the “sentinel guard” for the rest of the world against avian flu and other emerging diseases.

Hou, an orthopedic surgeon by training, first came to the School in 1994 as part of the Taiwan Health Elite Program. He was among 40 of Taiwan’s top health care professionals and administrators selected to participate in a special degree training program developed by Dr. Ko Cho Lin, commissioner for the Taiwan Provincial Department of Health at the time, and the School of Public Health.

“This was the first time all of these people were brought together. We learned a lot from our professors, but at the same time, we learned from each other,” Hou said.

However, Hou was forced to drop out of the Elite Program when he became dean of the School of Medicine at National Taiwan University. His new duties left him little time for degree studies. A few years later however, Hou returned to the School to complete his master’s degree. He graduated with honors.

Hou credits Henry Mosley, MD, MPH, a professor in the Department of Population and Family Health Sciences, for encouraging him to return to complete his degree. Hou fondly recalled that when one of his required courses was only offered at another Hopkins campus, it was Mosley who drove him to classes each week, because Hou had no other way to get there.

“I would like to show my appreciation for Professor Henry Mosley, because he really took good care of me,” added Hou.

Liou Shiow Wen

Liou Shiow-Wen is the vice-superintendent of Taipei City Hospital. She received her Master of Health Science from the School in 2004 through a joint program with the city of Taipei and National Taiwan University. Shiow-Wen said the program helped her as a leader adding a theoretical background to her management style.

The Bloomberg School now has 37 students from Taiwan. Most are enrolled in doctoral programs.

Hou said he hopes Taiwan and the Bloomberg School of Public Health can develop new training programs to help build Taiwan’s expertise in global health. Hou wants to explore ways Taiwan’s Health Department can help its neighboring countries.

“In the past, Taiwan was developing and we received assistance from the World Health Organization and the United States to eradicate polio and other infectious diseases. We’ve reached a status where we can be a donor, now. We can donate our resources, our money and our human resources to help neighboring countries and Africa. We want to be good stewards to the global community, but we are short on manpower in global health,” explained Hou.—Tim Parsons