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Former Taiwan vice president joins Pontifical Academy of Sciences

Professor Chen is considered a major driving force behind Taiwan's success in battling Covid-19

Former Taiwan vice president joins Pontifical Academy of Sciences

Professor Chen Chien-jen meets Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2018. Chen has been appointed as a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. (Photo courtesy of the Embassy of Taiwan to the Holy See)

Pope Francis has appointed Taiwan’s former vice president and renowned epidemiologist Chen Chien-jen as an ordinary member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Professor Chen, 70, a Catholic, is a lecturer in epidemiology at the Academia Sinica in Taiwan’s capital city Taipei. He is considered a major driving force behind Taiwan’s relative success in battling the Covid-19 pandemic.

His appointment to the prestigious Vatican academy was announced by the Holy See press office on July 30. He is the second Taiwanese after Nobel Prize laureate chemist Lee Yuan-tseh to become a member of the academy.

Chen was born on June 6, 1951, in Cishan, Taiwan. He studied at National Taiwan University in Taipei and obtained his PhD in human genetics and epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, US.

He served as Taiwan’s health minister from 2003-05, minister of the National Science Council from 2006-08 and as vice president from 2016-20. Besides his role at Academia Sinica, he also served as its vice president from 2011-15, the Vatican bulletin noted.

Chen has taught and conducted research in the fields of epidemiology, preventive medicine, public health and human genetics.

Transparency and openness are very important for the containment of infectious diseases

He was also a member of the board of trustees of Taiwan’s renowned Fu Jen Catholic University before joining the ruling Democratic Progressive Party of President Tsai Ing-wen.

As an epidemiologist and health minister, he came to global prominence for his seminal role in containing the outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2003.

In an interview with Al Jazeera in January, Chen said the coronavirus pandemic could have been stopped if Chinese authorities had notified the World Health Organization (WHO) when the virus was first detected in Wuhan in December 2019 and allowed an expert team to investigate.  

 “Transparency and openness are very important for the containment of infectious diseases,” Chen told Al Jazeera.

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“If the situation in Wuhan was very well reported to the World Health Organisation and the WHO organized a team and went to Wuhan in mid-December 2019, I think the disease could have been contained and no other countries would have suffered.”

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences has its roots in the Academy of the Lynxes (Accademia dei Lincei), which was founded in Rome in 1603 as the first exclusively scientific academy in the world, according to its website.

In 1847 Pope Pius IX re-established the academy as the Pontifical Academy of the New Lynxes. Pope Pius XI renewed and reconstituted the academy in 1936 and gave it its present name.

The academy is credited with progress in the fields of mathematics, physics and natural sciences.

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