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Meet Taiwan’s New VP

Alumnus Chien-Jen Chen brings ambitious health goals.

Story by Karen Kruse Thomas

Image at top: LOOKING BACK—Chien-Jen Chen takes a study break for a 1980 Dome snapshot. 

When Chien-Jen Chen, ScD ’83, takes office May 20 as vice president of Taiwan he’ll naturally prioritize public health.

Chen—the first Bloomberg School alum to be vice president of a nation—is concerned about emerging infectious disease control, sustainability and efficiency of the national health insurance system and community-based long-term care of the elderly. Also on his list: food safety and security, personalized preventive medicine and the promotion of a biopharmaceutical industry.

A former minister of health credited with suppressing the 2003 SARS epidemic in his island nation, Chen was nominated in the fall by Tsai Ing-Wen, Taiwan’s first female president. The pair was elected in January. A political outsider, the renowned epidemiologist reluctantly resigned from his post as vice president of Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s equivalent of the National Academy of Sciences. “I told the people in my laboratory that, for the coming years, it’s more important that I serve the people,” he says.

During the SARS epidemic, Chen rapidly mounted containment efforts across the island and ensured that SARS patients were isolated to prevent the infection’s spread in hospitals. A key initiative to his control of SARS originated at the Bloomberg School with Taiwanese students who, under the guidance of P.C. Huang, a professor in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, devised an unprecedented preventive protocol that involved temperature monitoring and achieved an 82 percent participation rate among the populace.

While at the School, Chen studied with Huang and Professor Bernice Cohen, a pioneering genetic epidemiologist. In 2012, Chen received the Johns Hopkins Knowledge for the World Award for his work on arsenic and hepatitis.

“With all the political turmoil in Taiwan, he’s the one people trust,” Huang says.

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