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11 Feb 2019

Taipei has welcomed a move from Washington aimed at helping Taiwan regain observer status in the World Health Organisation.

Taiwan did not receive an invitation to the World Health Assembly (the decision-making body of the WHO) the past two years. It had been a regular observer between 2009 and 2016.

Pressure from Beijing, following the 2016 election of independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan, has resulted in the WHO denying Taiwan the observer status it had previously enjoyed.

But the United States House of Representatives recently passed a bill to include America’s efforts to get Taiwan invited again to the WHA included in an annual report by the US Secretary of State.

This is a significant move and shows the US to be not only serious about helping Taiwan in its WHO campaign, but also happy to be public about it.

While the move might also have a lot to do with the trade war and tensions currently simmering between the US and China, it is a boost for Taiwan.

Taiwan is an enthusiastic and responsible contributor to global health issues, having invested about $6 billion in medical and humanitarian aid in more than 80 countries since 1996.

Its international successes in both medical breakthroughs and global assistance is also considerable. It has established many disease prevention systems. Taiwan insists it needs the WHO to protect the health of its own people, but that it can also contribute greatly to global health protection.

“For many years… it has participated in the WHA and WHO technical meetings, mechanisms and activities; steadily contributed to enhancing regional and global disease prevention networks; and dedicated its utmost to assisting other countries in overcoming healthcare challenges in order to jointly realise WHO’s vision that health is a fundamental right,” Taipei has said in a statement.

“Therefore, there is widespread support that Taiwan should be invited to attend the WHA.

“Located at a key position in East Asia, Taiwan shares environmental similarities for communicable disease outbreaks with neighbouring countries and is frequently visited by international travellers.

“This makes Taiwan vulnerable to cross-border transmission and cross-transmission of communicable disease pathogens, which could lead to their genetic recombination or mutation, and give rise to new infectious agents.

“However, because Taiwan is unable to attend the WHA and is excluded from full participation in related WHO technical meetings, mechanisms, and activities, it is only after much delay that Taiwan can acquire diseases and medical information, which is mostly incomplete. This creates serious gaps in the global health security system and threatens people’s right to health.”

The WHO’s own constitution states:

“The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”

CHRIS JOHNSON 

 


Published: 11 Feb 2019