Dr. Kuang Chi Liang (梁鑛琪醫師) lived a full life that spanned almost a century, a century of major geopolitical and technological changes. He is known for his professional accomplishments in public health, but he is also loved for his dedication to his family and to the local Taiwanese community and its causes.
He was born in April 1921 in a remote village called Yura (友蚋,台灣汐止北部山區小村), when Taiwan was still under Japanese Administration and the official language was Japanese. His father was the manager of two small coal mines and the family lived in a house by a stream between mountains. He recalled his early childhood as happy, carefree and full of mischief.
Everything changed when he was 13. Both of his parents died within three days of each other and he was suddenly faced with the duty of being the eldest in his family. He and his siblings were taken in by an uncle, but economic misfortune forced the extended family to live in poverty for several years. He knew that he had to continue his education in order to help support the family.
After excelling academically and also athletically in high school, he was admitted to the TaihokuKoto Gakko (日本殖民時期的台灣台北高等学校), the three-year preparatory school for Medical School. His medical school years coincided with World War II. During a bombing raid he narrowly escaped death and lost part of his hearing in one ear. At the end of 1945 he received his Medical School diploma at the age of 24.
After graduation, he worked as a pediatrician at Tai-Ta University Hospital (台大醫院). He saw a steady stream of poor mothers with children who suffered from malnutrition and infection and realized soon that public health intervention was necessary to slow down or stop the stream. At the urging of a professor, he joined the Department of Communicable Diseases of the Health Administration in mid‑1946 and was sent to Tainan the very next day to work on a cholera outbreak. After cholera was brought under control, in about three months, he decided to follow a career in public health.
On a field trip in early 1946, he met Chin-Che Lin at her family home in Hualien. They were married in April 1947.
In 1947 he joined the Malaria Research Institute set up by the Rockefeller Foundation in Chaochow (台灣屏東潮州) to conduct field research and experiments on control methods; the Institute became the Taiwan Provincial Malaria Research Institute (TAMRI; 台灣省瘧疾研究所) in 1948. Malaria was then the most deadly disease in Taiwan, with over a million people infected. The Rockefeller Foundation awarded him a fellowship to study for a Masters in Public Health at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in 1950-1951. He returned to Taiwan afterwards and began preparation for a malaria eradication program to be started in 1952 with funding from USAID. In 1953, he was appointed the Director of Malaria Research Institute.
The story of how Dr. Liang and his colleagues eradicated malaria in Taiwan has been documented in the book “Malaria Eradication in Taiwan”. It is an inspiring story of health workers who were committed, organized and resourceful, and who were able to energize the local officials and population in this common cause.
Teams were organized to study the spread of malaria infection, to educate the general population about malaria and to spray DDT. They had limited resources, using simply-designed spraying machines to apply DDT. At that time, bicycle was the only mode of transportation, so the technicians and workers used bicycles to get from one village or town to the other. Malaria in Taiwan came under control in just four years.
In October 1955 he was appointed by the Director General of World Health Organization (WHO) as a member of the WHO Expert Committee on Malaria. In 1957, after Taiwan was officially declared a malaria-free country, Dr. Liang was invited by WHO to work at Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) as an adviser for malaria eradication. He was charged with the coordination of the campaigns in the Caribbean, including French Guiana, Guyana and Surinam. In 1958 he was joined by his wife and three children in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. Over the next nine years, they lived in Trinidad, Venezuela, Peru and Columbia. Dr. Liang traveled extensively throughout the Caribbean islands and Central and South American countries. Some of the islands were so undeveloped then that he could only get there by seaplanes, small freighters, fishing boats or canoes.
Malaria was finally eradicated from all the Caribbean islands (except Hispaniola). Dr. Liang was then charged with the coordination of malaria eradication teams in the PAHO zone IV (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia), concentrating his efforts on helping young malariologists.
In 1966 he was appointed Regional Malariologist/Epidemiologist at PAHO headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he had to deal with program coordination at the continental level. He and his family moved to Bethesda, Maryland.
Dr. Liang retired from PAHO in 1981 but continued to consult for PAHO, WHO and the Department of Health in Taiwan. The longest assignment took him to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
In retirement he and his wife continued for a long time to travel to satisfy their curiosity regarding different countries and cultures. They were avid gardeners of vegetables and flowers, and he was always busy with projects such as building a black walnut desk or stone walls for the garden. He was a true handyman, skilled at plumbing, electrical repairs, auto mechanic, etc.
He and his wife participated frequently in social, cultural and professional activities of the local and national Taiwanese community. He started a Japanese class for adults at the Taiwanese Language School to pass on part of his linguistic and cultural heritage to a younger generation. For 10 years he taught at the class almost every Sunday, seldom taking a week off.
He was a senior member of both NATMA (North American Taiwanese Medical Association; 北美洲台灣人醫師協會) and TAA (Taiwanese American Association; 台美人協會) and often attended the many functions hosted by these two associations. He cared about Taiwan’s future so much that he traveled back to Taiwan for many presidential elections.
Sadly his wife passed away in 2010. Even as he missed her and his own health started to decline, he remained as physically and mentally active as he could be. He was always fascinated by new technologies.
Dr. Liang passed away on June 15, 2013 at his home in Bethesda. He is survived by his son Li‑Shiang, daughter-in-law Georgia Sassen and grandson Tai Sassen-Liang, in Massachusetts, and by his daughter Ma-Li and son Li-Ting in Maryland.
Dr. Kuang Chi Liang dedicated his professional life to public health and malaria control in Taiwan, the Caribbean, South America and other parts of the world. His goal was not recognition or financial rewards for his efforts, but satisfaction in knowing that he had done well in his duty. He was part of a great generation that grew up under enormous adversity and went on to accomplish so much for humankind.