Sun, May 13, 2007 - Page 8 News List

WHO entry is a moral, not political question

By Mei-chin Van Der Wees

Taiwan is a thriving democracy, has a vibrant economy and offers its citizens universal health care. The nation sends young medical doctors to African nations such as Burkina Faso and Malawi to improve health standards. It even offers to send peacekeepers to the world's hot spots, if allowed.

In other words, Taiwan is eager to be an active member of the international community, yet it has been locked out of nearly all global organizations.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan (陳馮富珍) chose not to accept Taiwan's application for membership in the organization, saying that the reason for exclusion was that Taiwan "is not an independent state."

The nation is growing tired of such lame excuses, because, as almost everyone is aware, China is the real culprit behind Taiwan's international isolation.

To exclude the 23 million Taiwanese from the WHO, to deprive them of the universal rights to the prevention of and treatment of infectious disease in a global outbreak is simply morally wrong.

In 2003, when Taiwan was hit by SARS, the WHO initially refused to offer medical aid and vaccines to Taiwan. Taiwanese health authorities had to go to the Internet to search for information about SARS and more than 35 Taiwanese perished because of delays in treatment.

In effect, excluding Taiwan from the WHO will leave a hole in the global epidemic prevention network because bacteria and viruses know no boundaries.

It is not up to Chan to decide whether Taiwan is a nation or not: Under the criteria established in the 1933 Montevideo Convention, Taiwan is a sovereign state with effective control of a territory.

To sidestep the issue of sovereignty, Taiwan applied to become an observer at World Health Assembly as a health "entity" in 1997. For 10 consecutive years, however, because of opposition from China, its application has never even been put on the health assembly's agenda.

This year, the government decided to apply for entry to the WHO as a full member under the name Taiwan. WHO rules and regulations state that membership applications should be put on the agency's agenda and brought to the attention of member states. None of these steps were taken and the application was rejected before it ever had a chance.

To the great disappointment of the Taiwanese, the US government has refused to support Taiwan's full membership in the WHO, lamely citing its "one China" policy.

But let us go back to the basic principle of the WHO, which is "health for all." If a doctor refuses to treat a patient because of his or her political views, he or she will be censored by the medical board. By the same token it is unconscionable for the WHO and its member states to exclude Taiwan.

The universal right of the 23 million Taiwanese to the prevention and treatment of infectious disease is not and should not be a political issue, but a human rights and moral issue. Simply put, it is morally wrong to treat Taiwanese like second-class citizens.

Mei-chin van der Wees is a writer based in Washington.

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