Taiwan’s social welfare under scrutiny following death of malnourished man

The recent death of a 62-year-old man in Changhua County has turned the spotlight on Taiwan's social welfare system, as he had been in state of malnutrition for a long time, which put him at high risk of infectious complications.

The man had been living in Hemei Township for years with his two younger brothers, prior to his death from sepsis on June 20 at a Changhua hospital.

The plight of the three brothers had been reported to Changhua County Councilor Lai Ching-mei (???) on June 17 by Ward Chief Chen Hsin-yi (???), and the two went to the home of the men later the same day.

The three single Yeh (?) brothers, aged 62, 60 and 55, were found to be living in a dilapidated house they had inherited when their parents died eight years ago, according to Lai.

All three of them appeared to be sick and starving, and the second one and the blind youngest one were rushed to hospital by an emergency crew on June 17, Lai said.

The eldest brother was also determined to be in critical condition, and was also taken to hospital by emergency crews, she said, adding that the 62-year-old died on June 20.

Following the news of the man's death, Changhua County Magistrate Wang Hui-mei (???) pledged an overall overhaul of the county's social security network, and she said local authorities should learn from the tragedy to ensure that such a situation does not occur again.

According to Chen, the three brothers had been struggling for years, as the eldest one was in poor health, the youngest one was completely blind, and the second one could do only occasional odd jobs to earn a little money sometimes.

Since the pandemic started two years ago, however, even that source of slim income dried up, and the brothers were trying to survive on a government disability subsidy of NT$3,700 (US$125) per month, which was being given to the blind brother, Chen said.

Their aunt, who lived next door, had been offering them food, but since she died about a year ago, they had been practically starving, and became malnourished, Chen said.

When the news of the tragedy broke, people across Taiwan began pouring out donations to the two surviving brothers, and as of Wednesday morning NT$6.2 million in cash had been donated, in addition to aid supplies.

Many have also been criticizing Taiwan's social welfare system, saying it had failed the Yeh brothers.

Film director Akira Chen (???), who is from Changhua, said it was so hard to believe that such a terrible incident had happened in his home county.

"Did this really take place in today's Taiwan?" he said in a Facebook post, questioning the roles of the local police, public opinion leaders and social welfare workers.

"The social security network in Taiwan is broken," he said.

Other people, who also took to social media to comment on the issue, said it was shameful that people should die of hunger in Taiwan, and they asked how the Yeh brothers could have been in an unnoticed state of malnutrition for such a long time.

In response, the Hemei Township Office said its workers and local delegates had visited the Yehs' house but had never entered. The three men declined all offers of help, which was why no other subsidy applications were filed for them, the office said.

Meanwhile, the youngest brother was still in hospital as of Wednesday, but his condition had stabilized and he was on his way to recovery, his doctors said.

The other brother had been discharged and was back home. He thanked the donors for their generosity and said he was determined to make a living on his own.

Changhua County's Social Affairs Bureau has now listed the two brothers as a low-income family and said it will be able to provide them with subsidies to help with their medical bills and the cost of their brother's funeral.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel