Mon, Nov 20, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Chan lifts hopes for WHO role for Taiwan

By Dan Bloom

If anyone can help Taiwan enter the WHO under observer status, it's going to be Margaret Chan (陳馮富珍), the organization's new director-general. Her recent appointment marks the first time anyone from China has been selected to lead a top UN agency, and her knowledge of Taiwan might boost the nation's chances of joining the world health body.

Taiwanese health officials are upbeat about the prospects and pleased with the Hong Kong doctor's appointment.

"As director of Hong Kong's health department during the 2003 SARS epidemic, Chan will have a better understanding of Taiwan's public health issues and its need to be included in the international health community," said Peter Chang (張武修), head of Department of Health's Bureau of International Cooperation.

In addition, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs hopes Chan will put aside her political stance as a citizen of China and work to help Taiwan become a WHO observer.

"More and more members of the WHO have realized the importance and necessity of [our] participation in [WHO], so we expect Chan will stick to the spirit of the WHO which aims to provide good health care to all global citizens and not exclude the people of Taiwan any longer," the ministry said.

Mainland Affairs Council Chairman Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) also believes Chan will help Taiwan's efforts to join the WHO.

"Both Hong Kong and Taiwan were affected by SARS in 2003. Since Chan is from Hong Kong, she should understand Taiwan's wish to join the WHO," he said.

However, China remains firm in its position that Taiwan has no right to join the WHO. "Our stance is clear," Jiang Yu (姜瑜), a spokeswoman for China's Foreign Ministry told reporters in Beijing after Chan's appointment was made public. "WHO is made up of sovereign states, so as a part of China, Taiwan has no right to join. This is not a decision that can be made by [Chan] alone."

Taiwan's application to join the WHO under observer status has been shot down for 10 consecutive years in the face of Chinese pressure. Taiwan has not been a member of the WHO since the Republic of China withdrew from the the UN in 1979.

Chan is now in a position to help Taiwan join WHO in some capacity, according to observers. But will she? Can she?

It's not going to be easy, as previous attempts have shown. The battle continues, and Taiwan will make a new try next year.

While the WHO can't continue to ignore the rights to basic health of Taiwan's 23 million people, justice in Geneva won't come easily or quickly, although now there's more hope with Chan.

The preamble to the WHO Constitution states: "The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being, without distinction to race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition."

It makes perfect sense therefore for Taiwan to be admitted to the world body, and the sooner the better. Those who conspire to keep Taiwan out of the WHO are working against the very spirit of the preamble itself.

If other entities such as the Vatican, the Palestinian Authority and the Red Cross can hold WHO, observer status, certainly there should be a place at the table for Taiwan's representatives, too.

Diseases recognize no boundaries, as SARS and bird flu shows. Taiwan's status as a WHO observer would not involve the sovereignty dispute with China, nor would it challenge Beijing's existing status within the WHO.

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