On Monday, the World Health Assembly (WHA), the highest decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO), passed a resolution rejecting Taiwan's 10th bid to obtain observer status. This is an indication that even within the WHO, politics transcends human rights, life and health.
Chinese Health Minister Gao Qiang (
The Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, under the guidance of the WHO, still excludes Taiwan. While Taiwan can submit reports and receive international information about communicable diseases through health bodies in other countries, inclusion in this network would give Taiwan direct access to information about communicable diseases. Timely access to the WHO's information and assistance would not only ensure the health and well-being of the country's citizens, but also allow Taiwan to provide medical help in the region. This would have been a win-win situation.
China argues that it signed a memorandum of understanding with the WHO last year in response to demands that disease prevention should know no borders. This is simply a pretext to agreeing to let Taiwan participate in disease prevention conferences, when in reality it has built a wall to prevent international information from reaching the country. For instance, the country was barred from participating in the bird flu conference in Beijing even though it had attended the conference in Tokyo. It is not appropriate to let a government hostile to Taiwan play the role of its protector. Instead of producing positive results, it has become yet another political obstacle.
When the International Health Regulations were amended last year, they were based on the principle of universal application and implementation by all countries. But with avian flu now casting a long shadow over the world, Taiwan is still not included in the WHO's global disease prevention network, making it a potential weak link. This is not only a violation of the Taiwanese public's right to fundamental health care, but also represents a loss to the global health network. Given the country's proximity to China -- a prime source of infection -- the WHO could promote more effective disease prevention by letting Taiwan attend all technical conferences to avoid a repetition of the SARS incident when Taiwan was cut off from all international aid in 2001.
The WHO is the cornerstone of global health. As such, it should emphasize engagement with international experts and professional health concerns. If the WHO continues to base its operations on political concerns, the government's "soft tactics" will never succeed. Next year, Taiwan should consider adopting a more aggressive approach and apply for formal WHO membership under the name "Taiwan" to protest China's political interference in health and medical affairs.