Sat, Dec 25, 2010 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: The Grinches who stole our health

It looks like the Grinch really has stolen Christmas — no, not today — but the many Christmases to come. The recently inked cross-strait medical and health cooperation pact will ensure this.

The accord provides for the exchange of information and cooperation in fighting infectious diseases, cracking down on counterfeit medicines and products, ensuring drug safety and establishing cooperation in clinical trials. The Department of Health said the pact would bring standards and norms for medical products on both sides of the Taiwan Strait into line with each other. For example, Chinese exporters of herbal medicines will have to produce certification on the safety of their products, safety checks must meet international standards and products will undergo three rounds of inspection. It sounds too good to be true, because it is.

To say that a pact dealing with public health was seen as easier to ink than one on investment protection, which had been scheduled to be signed this week as well, is mind-boggling would be an understatement. That more time was needed to ensure the safety of Taiwanese corporations and businesspeople, but not the health of the 23 million people of this nation, is truly sickening.

Of course, the investment pact has all those niggling details about business rights, treatment of investors, expropriation of property, compensation, dispute settlement and so on. Taiwanese businesspeople can get pretty heated about those — as can politicians, who have their own investments in China, or those of close relatives, to worry about.

It is so much easier to reach an accord on medical matters when you know the other side will just lie anyway. Why worry about frank disclosure with a government that has prevaricated, stonewalled and covered up one medical nightmare after another — the spread of AIDS through unhygienic blood collection and transfusions, SARS, harvesting of organs from executed prisoners, contamination of milk powder and other products, swine flu, etc, etc, etc.

Why not ask doctors Gao Yaojie (高耀潔) and Jiang Yanyong (蔣彥永) about what it’s like to “work with” Beijing in trying to fight the spread of infectious disease, or Zhao Lianhai (趙連海) about campaigning for product safety?

The 84-year-old Gao was persecuted and finally driven from China for raising attention about and treating villagers infected with HIV through contaminated blood transfusions and blood donation procedures. Jiang, the army surgeon who blew the lid off Beijing’s SARS cover-up in 2003, was first hailed as a hero and then reviled when he tried to draw attention to other issues. Zhao was sentenced last month to two-and-a-half years in jail for establishing a Web site, “Kidney Stone Babies,” for parents of children who became ill after consuming melamine-contaminated milk powder. He was found guilty of “inciting social disorder” after his initial arrest in December last year on a charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”

Yes, Taiwan’s government has just signed an agreement with a regime that has proven time and again that it is willing to sacrifice hundreds and thousands of its own people to ensure its continued rule. So while the freshly inked pact talks about raising medical and drug standards on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, it’s hard to see how Taiwan’s standards have anywhere to go but down.

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