Almost sent home, Indonesian worker gets health reprieve

Taipei Veterans General Hospital. (CNA file photo)

TAIPEI (CNA) — Taiwan has extended a helping hand to an Indonesian migrant worker with a severe autoimmune disease, making it possible for her to get a much needed bone marrow transplant, according to a local non-governmental organization (NGO).

The case emerged in February when the Indonesian national, Nina Herlina, called the Taiwan International Workers’ Association (TIWA), a local NGO that promotes migrant workers’ rights, after her broker wanted to terminate her contract and send her home without giving a reason.

The TIWA later learned that the decision was made after doctors suspected she had aplastic anemia, an autoimmune disease in which her body fails to produce blood cells in sufficient numbers, the NGO said in a recent Facebook post.

With the help of the TIWA, the 23-year-old Indonesian was given the chance to stay in Taiwan, where she had been since October 2018 while working as a caregiver.

On March 19, doctors at Taipei Veterans General Hospital (TVGH) officially diagnosed her as having severe aplastic anemia, with a bone marrow transplant identified as the best way to treat her disease, according to the TIWA.

Doctors told Nina that the healthy cells for the transplant could come from a family member, making her two younger sisters, aged 5 and 14, the best candidates for the operation, it said.

Nina could not afford the estimated NT$400,000 (US$13,364) needed, however, to pay for plane tickets and other costs for her mother and two sisters to come to Taiwan and for medical expenses.

To help raise money for the projected expenses of Nina and her family, the TIWA initiated an online fundraising campaign on May 25, and as of Saturday, about NT$400,000 had been raised, the TIWA said, thanking all those who made donations.

Beyond the financial difficulties, Nina’s family in Indonesia also faced hurdles posed by travel restrictions on foreign visitors to Taiwan.

Since March 19, Taiwan has barred foreign nationals from entering the country with few exceptions, and all arrivals, regardless of their nationalities, are subject to a 14-day quarantine upon entry.

The TIWA asked for help from ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Hung Sun-han (洪申翰) to make it possible for Nina’s family to visit the country.

With support from Hung, who had talks with Taiwan’s foreign ministry and Indonesia’s representative office in Taiwan, Nina’s mother and two younger sisters were granted visas before finally arriving in the country on June 2.

The three are now being quarantined at a Taichung hotel after having undergone special blood tests arranged by TVGH to determine if any of them were suitable donors for a bone marrow transplant operation.

The results have identified Nina’s five-year-old sister as a suitable donor, according to the hospital, and related medical procedures for the scheduled transplant could be conducted in mid-July, the TVGH said.

Hung told CNA that Nina’s case has exposed an ugly truth that Taiwan still has much room for improvement in terms of protecting migrant workers’ right to medical care.

Nina is relatively lucky that a local NGO helped her arrange the medical care she needed, but a large number of migrant workers may not be as lucky, according to Hung.

The DPP lawmaker said he plans to propose legislation that would ensure migrant workers in the country have better access in the future to the care they need.