Sun, May 18, 2003 - Page 8 News List

If WHO won't help us, who will?

By the Liberty Times editorial

In an article published in the Washington Post on May 9, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) called on the world to help Taiwan combat SARS, and indicated his hope that this country would be invited to attend the World Health Assembly (WHA), which convenes tomorrow, as an observer.

Chen pointed out that Taiwan has responsibilities toward the world, too. After all, Taiwan not only has a 23-million-strong population, but it is also an important center of trade. Therefore, what happens in Taiwan impacts millions and millions of people around the world.

When the SARS epidemic broke out in Taiwan, the nation immediately asked the World Health Organization (WHO) for help in fighting the disease. Unfortunately, Taiwan's pleas were rejected. It wasn't until a major surge in the number of infections that the health body finally dispatched two experts to Taiwan.

This, in itself, indicates that Taiwan is an indispensable link in the world's health system. At the same time, this also indicates that cooperation between Taiwan and the WHO should not be affected by political factors.

The spread of SARS is still serious. After Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital and Jen Chi Hospital were sealed off as a result of infections within the hospitals, Huachang Public Housing Complex was also sealed off as a result of suspected community transmission.

The WHO has elevated the ranking of Taiwan's level of infection from mid-level to high-level -- placing the country in the same category as Beijing, Guangdong, Shanghai and Hong Kong -- and issued an advisory about travel to Taiwan.

Therefore, on the eve of the WHA convention, Chen submitted a letter to the Washington Post expressing his hope that the WHA would invite Taiwan to participate as an observer.

He also called for world attention with respect to the ethical rectitude of excluding Taiwan from the organization, which violates the basic human rights of the people in Taiwan.

When the SARS epidemic first hit the nation, the government took the initiative and contacted the WHO. Yet the WHO did not respond to any requests for assistance.

Not only that, for political reasons the WHO lumped updates on the outbreak of the disease in Taiwan with those in China. China also demanded that the WHO request its permission before offering assistance to Taiwan.

As stated by Chen Tzay-jinn (陳再晉), director-general of the Center for Disease Control, this political interference has rendered the people of Taiwan no different from those being quarantined, leaving them helplessly isolated.

It was only after infections broke out within the Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital that the WHO finally sent over two experts on May 3. By then, the outbreak of the disease had become extensive.

The belated gesture of the WHO caused Taiwan to needlessly sacrifice many precious lives and pay an incalculable social cost. As Chen Tzay-jinn spoke about the exclusion of Taiwan from the international health-care community and the political meddling of China in the disease-control efforts, he became emotional and was choked with tears. The heartache and melancholy felt by Chen Tzay-jinn are representative of the sentiments of the people of Taiwan.

China deliberately concealed the existence and extent of the epidemic, causing a major calamity for all humanity. Then, like the bully it is, it went on to block WHO assistance to Taiwan. In contrast, Taiwan has made disease prevention and control efforts completely transparent, as well as indicating its willingness to cooperate with the international community. Yet, it continues to be shut out of the WHO.

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