Wed, Apr 25, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Answering the call

With an invitation to this year’s World Health Assembly increasingly unlikely, Taiwan and Taiwanese Americans find ways to highlight their health aid to the international community

By Chris Fuchs  /  Contributing reporter in New York

Members of the Taiwanese American Association of New York and Keep Taiwan Free gather for a small rally in Manhattan to advocate for Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHO.

Photo Courtesy of Keep Taiwan Free

Haiti, one of Taiwan’s 20 diplomatic allies, is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It’s also a place where roughly two in five Haitians lack access to essential health and nutritional services, according to the US Agency for International Development, which administers civilian foreign aid and development assistance.

Universal health coverage happens to be the theme of this year’s World Health Assembly (WHA), which meets in Geneva, Switzerland, between May 21 and May 26.

Yet Taiwan — whose universal healthcare system is frequently touted as a successful model — still hasn’t received an invitation to attend as an observer, a snub that’s been seen as China’s attempt to limit Taiwan’s international space.

Experts say participating in the WHA would allow the nation to share its own health expertise and knowledge about topics like public sanitation and disease prevention, a boon to the 194 member states of the WHO, including China.

It would also help give Taiwan access to information about international health emergencies.

“As we see right now, there are talks about trade wars, but in between those headlines, there needs to be a headline about what Taiwan is doing as well,” said Frantz Lubin, director of operations for Operation Grace for Haiti, a nonprofit providing social assistance to the Caribbean country.

TAIWAN’S CONTRIBUTION TO GLOBAL HEALTHCARE

As it turns out, Taiwan and Taiwanese-Americans have been doing a lot.

Details of that work emerged during a symposium this past weekend in New York City called Support Taiwan’s Participation in the WHO (推動台灣參與WHO), where Lubin was one of the speakers.

The North American Taiwanese Medical Association (北美臺灣人醫師協會), whose New York chapter helped organize the Saturday afternoon event, has spearheaded medical missions for the last 15 years to underserved countries including Haiti, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Myanmar, according to Tsai Jung (蔡榮聰), a physician and moderator of the symposium.

Taiwan supplies medical equipment and medicine, while the 1,400-member physicians’ association provides the manpower, which includes medical specialists, Tsai said.

Overall, Taiwan has invested over US$6 billion in international medical and humanitarian aid efforts since 1996 in more than 80 countries, according to the government.

Steve Lee (李致一), president of the association’s New York chapter, said the WHO’s mission is aimed at helping everyone, regardless of their political system, economic condition, religious belief or ethnicity.

He said he was surprised that Taiwan had yet to be invited to this year’s assembly — the decision-making arm of the WHO, which includes committees to debate technical and health matters, as well as financial and management issues.

“We simply ask that the WHO recognize that the people of Taiwan are facing the same healthcare issues that affect every other individual in any other country, and permit the participation of Taiwan in this year’s conference,” Lee said.

CHINA’S OBSTINACY

But the increasingly strained relationship between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan has made an invitation less and less probable, experts say.

After being invited to attend the annual meetings as an observer for eight consecutive years, Taiwan was passed over for the first time last year.

“Clearly, Taiwan has potentially a significant role to play in international health issues, and it’s obviously trying to expand those opportunities where it can,” Richard Bush, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, told the Taipei Times.

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