Chen Chun-fang /photo byTaiwanICDF /tr. byScott Williams
Since 2006, Taiwan’s International Cooperation and Development Fund (TaiwanICDF) has been operating a program that shares Taiwan's mature information and communications technologies with countries in the Caribbean region, helping them utilize Taiwanese technology to establish national information and communications centers, medical information systems, motor vehicle systems and so on.
Imagine going to the hospital with no national health insurance card, having to fill out forms so that the staff can look for your paper-based medical records. If you’re lucky, they might find them in an hour or so, enabling you to complete the process of signing in. If you’re unlucky, the hospital might have lost your records, requiring you to redo all of the forms from your first visit.
Those of us in Taiwan are accustomed to the convenience of electronic records, but this convenience didn’t emerge from the void. Instead, it is the result of a government computerization initiative that began in the 1980s. Yen Ming-hong, director of TaiwanICDF’s Technical Cooperation Department, says that there are basically four stages on the road to e-government. It begins with the conversion of paper records to electronic records, followed by data sharing between government departments. It then moves on to the making of government services available online, and finally arrives at the implementation of “smart” government. This fourth stage, which Taiwan is now entering, involves making large amounts of data available for value-added public use, which can lead to services such as texts warning of earthquakes.
Prior to the introduction of TaiwanICDF’s Information and Communications Technology Program to the Caribbean, Taiwan’s allies in the region, which include Belize, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, and Saint Kitts and Nevis, conducted all their government business on paper.
The J.N. France General Hospital is St. Kitts and Nevis’ most important medical institution. The hospital’s implementation of an electronic records system has greatly increased patient satisfaction and quality of care.
An information desert
The program began by helping these countries establish national information and communications centers.
Yen explains that these centers play three roles. The first is as resource centers housing the servers that host each nation’s information systems. Since the failure of a server would bring government operations to a halt, the centers employ stringent information security measures. With guidance from Taiwan, the national centers in St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Belize have become the first government institutions in their nations to obtain ISO 27001 information security certification.
The second role is as training centers. Each of the centers has computer classrooms and offers courses on subjects as basic as how to use productivity software and as advanced as systems development. With long-term assistance from Taiwan, each of the centers has also earned certifications from major international corporations. For example, residents of Belize can complete the coursework and testing necessary to obtain Microsoft certification at the center, rather than having to travel abroad. This is one important way in which TaiwanICDF has helped to upgrade ICT expertise in these countries.
The centers’ third role is consulting. TaiwanICDF’s ICT program places Taiwanese experts onsite to do systems development work in conjunction with locals, passing on knowledge and skills in the process. This enables local people to gain systems development skills and maintain systems themselves once the ICT program has run its course. It also means that when other government departments want to integrate computers into their operations, the centers are able provide expert advice. In Yen’s view, the program is at the forefront of efforts to promote national development.
Taiwan’s information and communication technology program has helped St. Kitts and Nevis’ J.N. France General Hospital switch from paper records to e-records. Now, medical personnel can access a patient’s medical information by simply scanning the patient’s medical ID card.
Feeling the need
The program’s core objective is to make life easier for the people in each nation. Program participants observe the public’s needs and then look to Taiwanese technology for solutions. The medical information system that the program helped build for St. Kitts and Nevis’ Joseph N. France General Hospital is a case in point.
The facility used to keep medical records on paper, but lacked adequate file management. Because records were often misplaced or mixed up with those of other patients, patients spent a great deal of time waiting to register for hospital visits. The ICT program therefore created an information management system that tracks registrations, examining rooms, medical records, payments, inventories, and prescriptions. This helps the hospital control inventory costs, manage its inventories on a first-in‡first-out basis, and train healthcare workers in ways that improve administrative efficiency across the board.
The program also introduced patient ID cards that medical workers can scan to bring up a patient’s information. Together, the cards and the information management system have greatly increased the efficiency of healthcare delivery, and reduced average patient wait-times from four hours to just two.
TaiwanICDF’s ICT program looks at public needs, and then builds easily operated systems to meet those needs. (courtesy of Hyweb Technology)
Hyweb Technology introduced Taiwan’s outstanding ID printing systems and equipment to Belize to help resolve problems stemming from fake driver’s licenses. The photo shows a Belize driver’s license printed for Lin Chia-lung, Taiwan’s minister of transportation and communications, at a ceremony celebrating 30 years of friendly relations with Belize. (photo by Lin Min-hsuan)
Belizean driver’s licenses used to be printed on paper and then laminated. As a result, officials in other countries often assumed that Belize licenses were fakes. Hyweb Technology introduced license numbers derived from national ID card numbers, and improved the licenses’ anti-counterfeiting features, in the hope that the cards could also function as IDs.
Prior to the program, branch offices of Belize’s Department of Transport did all their work on paper, and were unable to exchange information with other offices. Consequently, a driver who had committed a traffic violation could simply go to a different branch office and get a new license. Offices also had no way to check if applicants had unpaid fines.
Belize also struggled with criminals from neighboring nations bringing stolen vehicles across the Hondo River, which defines much of Belize’s international border, when water levels were low. The criminals would register the stolen vehicles in Belize, and then “launder” them by using their new titles to sell them to Belizeans. Hyweb helped address the issue by sharing Taiwan’s transportation oversight experience, mediating between departments as they negotiated shared processes, and then producing a system to meet those criteria.
Stan Ma, a senior manager at Hyweb Technology, says that because Hyweb had already created an import‡export review system for Belize and had maintained good relations with Rigel Brown, a Belizean customs examiner and system administrator who had been responsible for the earlier project, it was relatively easy to link the transportation and customs systems. Now that Belize’s Department of Transport can instantly check the import‡export information for any vehicle on the customs system, it can impound those of dubious origin, resolving the problem.
Hyweb’s Stan Ma has been working on the TaiwanICDF program for the last 12 years, and has long since internalized its goal of making life better for the people of the Caribbean. (photo by Lin Min-hsuan)
Dylan Su (right), a Hyweb project manager, and José Trejo, director of Belize’s Bureau of Standards, attend a ceremony marking the inauguration of Belize’s electronic licenses and permits system. (courtesy of Hyweb Technology)
Projects as diplomacy
Dylan Su, a project manager involved with TaiwanICDF projects for the last 12 years, and Ma both said they had a difficult time in the Caribbean at first. They noted the lack of convenience stores; the networks that went down during thunderstorms; and the fact that project workers sometimes found themselves seated on stools on planes during overbooked flights. Their trips to the Caribbean lasted anywhere from one to six months, and the time difference with Taiwan made things even more difficult. “It felt like I’d been pulled out of my own life and marginalized,” quips Ma.
But their perspectives changed over the course of their extended periods in country and their participation in the program, and they began thinking about which technological tools they could use to help locals with their difficulties. Belize’s privately operated buses are a case in point. Fares vary from operator to operator, and the vehicles themselves are often overcrowded and poorly maintained, with some listing badly to one side or operating without a door. A planned installation of GPS systems on the buses will generate data that can be used to plan routes and timetables and optimise the locations of bus stops. “As a technologist, nothing makes me happier than developing systems that can improve people’s lives,” says Ma.
TaiwanICDF’s ICT program highlights Taiwan’s technological capabilities, and demonstrates Taiwan’s commitment to improving the lives of citizens in allied nations, strengthening and deepening the friendly relations between our countries.
TaiwanICDF’s Information and Communication Technology Program works with allies in the Caribbean to improve people’s lives.