Wed, May 14, 2003 - Page 8 News List

WHO should not pander to China's bully tactics

By Chen Yong-shing 陳永興

Judging from Taiwan's recent battle against SARS, the nation's participation in the World Health Organization (WHO) is of great urgency. According to the WHO's Constitution, "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." Therefore, when the health of all humanity is threatened by SARS, the WHO should not ignore the health of the Taiwanese. Nor should it exclude Taiwan from participating in the organization.

Taiwan was one of the original founders of the WHO. However, due to the mistaken "one China" policy in the past, Taiwan withdrew from the UN and the WHO after its diplomatic frustration of losing its UN seat to China. Such losses and serious consequences have lasted to this day, and Taiwan's attempts to return to both the UN and the WHO are still unsuccessful.

Theoretically, the WHO should view health as a human right, and take actions to pursue and maintain the health of all humanity. Unfortunately, it's difficult for the organization to rid itself of political interference. As a result, proposals for Taiwan's participation in the WHO have been arbitrarily and irrationally opposed by the Chinese representatives over the past few years.

Take the recent SARS outbreak for example. The WHO's investigation into the epidemic in China was repeatedly obstructed. Taiwan's attempts to understand the epidemic information there were also in vain. Neither have its efforts in and contribution to SARS prevention helped it enter the WHO. Such unfair treatment has hurt people's rights to health care, seriously damaging the purpose of the WHO, as well as health prevention work in Taiwan and the entire world. This deserves the attention of everyone concerned about human health.

The existence of the WHO is necessary. So is Taiwan's participation in the organization. We still have many tasks to achieve in order to push the nation's entry to the WHO forward. Those concerned about the issue have tried various ways to accomplish this. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Health -- along with the Foundation of Medical Professionals Alliance in Taiwan and other enthusiastic civil groups -- have constantly lobbied foreign health officials to discuss Taiwan's return to the organization at the annual World Health Assembly (WHA) meeting, held in May every year.

In addition, there are as many as 189 non-government organizations (NGOs) that are related to the WHO. Government and private health professionals or human-rights activists are welcome to participate in many of these NGOs. By becoming official representatives of NGOs, we can also attend the WHO's meetings and therefore give full play to our influence. There will be much room for us to join the WHO if such channels could be opened.

I hope all parties in Taiwan -- especially those concerned about the rights of Taiwanese to adequate health care" and the nation's health diplomacy -- can actively join these NGOs with official working relationships with the WHO. By participating in international affairs and the WHO's meetings through such channels, we will bring our knowledge and professionalism into full play, so as to break through diplomatic barriers and overcome the oppression of China's "power politics."

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