Return to Taiwan Aboriginal Rights Webpage

Biopiracy against Taiwan's Aboriginal Peoples
by Mark Munsterhjelm,
August 4, 1999, e-mail:

The following article appeared on pg. 2 of the July 13, 1999 edition of
the Taipei Times Newspaper. This a mainstream newspaper article,
therefore it is obviously biased and should be treated as such. This
article is posted for  reference and as evidence of biopiracy.

In a related report, dated July 31, 1999, on the Taiwan Government's
Public Television Service's Formosa Aboriginal News Magazine program,
Aboriginal activists charged that as many as 10,000 blood samples had
been taken from Taiwan Aboriginal people by various research institutes
for research purposes. This short documentary also featured several
research pirates explaining their research into unique genetic mutations
Taiwan's Aboriginal peoples.

This newspaper article fails to ask important questions such as why are
Taiwan's Aboriginal peoples over represented in the sex industry? Common
estimates place 20% of all prostitutes in
Taiwan as being Aboriginal.
This is Ten times their percentage of the general population which is 2%
or about 350,000 to 400,000 of
Taiwan's 21 million. Organized crime
rings often traffick in Aboriginal girls in
Taiwan. This parallels
similar problems facing the Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand.

 A recent legal case was begun by 50 Taiwanese "comfort women" against
the Japanese government demanding compensation and a formal apology.
These women were forced or tricked into prostitution during the Japanese
occupation by the Japanese colonial government. Of these 50, 12 are

American military forces were present in Taiwan from the 1950's to the
late 1970's. In the 1960's during the Vietnam War Taiwan was a favourite
"R&R" stop for American soldiers. One infamous area of bars and brothels
Taipei was and still is known as the "Combat Zone". As well a former
aboriginal village in
Northern Taipei known as Peitou became another
infamous area for this sorted industry.
What role the sex industry had
in the capital accumulation process of
Taiwan's so-called "Economic
Miracle" is something for consideration.

Thus it is a terrible irony that Taiwan's Aboriginal peoples be subject
to biopiracy supposedly to finding a treatment for AIDS since their
overrepresentation in the sex industry is a direct function of their

Title: "Aboriginals less likely to contract AIDS, says Pingtung County
Source: Central News Agency (Taiwan Government news agency),

Taiwan aboriginal people may be less susceptible to AIDS because of
genetic mutation, a
Pingtung County medical doctor said yesterday.

Since no ethnic data is recorded in local hospitals for Taiwan HIV
carriers and AIDS patients, Dr. Lee Yao-chun of the Christian Hospital
said there is no way to find out how many infected people in Taiwan are
aboriginal. But death records indicate no aboriginal is recorded as
having died of AIDS, Lee said

More aborigines work in the sex trade than do Han Chinese, so they
should have a higher risk of exposure to the virus, he said. But they
actually have much lower susceptibility rate to AIDS than the Han, he

Lee, who provides medical care to aboriginals in Pingtung County said he
believed that the aboriginal genetic makeup, particularly mutations to
their "CCR5", "CCR2", and "SDV-1" genes, makes it more difficult for HIV
to attack
their immune systems. Even if they engage in high risk sexual activity;
they are less likely to become infected, he said.

Lee said his assumption is also based on medical reports abroad which
have shown that lower susceptibility to rheumatoid arthritis is related
to a mutation of the "CCR5" gene

Domestic medical data he said, shows that Taiwan’s aboriginals are more
predisposed to certain afflictions such as tuberculosis than the Han
people. They have much lower rates of rheumatoid arthritis and
ankylosing spondylitis, two diseases related to the immune system, he

Lee said his hospital is cooperatlng with the Kaohsiung Medical College
to establish a genetic data bank of the island’s aboriginal people in
order to prove his belief. He said he hoped to collect data on 40,000
aborigines to prove his hypothesis.

The results, Lee said, will further research into AIDS treatment and the
development of vaccines.

There were about 2,400 HIV carriers around Taiwan as of from June this
year, less than 800 of whom have developed full-blown AIDS.

End of Article.

Return to Taiwan Aboriginal Rights Webpage