Wed, May 21, 2003 - Page 1 News List

No voice for Taiwan at WHO meet

SILENCED The head of the Department of Health never got a chance to give his briefing to members of the organization despite several requests by allies

By Melody Chen and Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTERS IN GENEVA AND TAIPEI

Department of Health head Chen Chien-jen talks to Shen Lyu-shun, head of the Taipei Cultural and Economic Delegation in Switzerland's Geneva office, ahead of a technical meeting of the World Health Assembly in Geneva yesterday.

PHOTO: FANG PIN-CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

Taiwan's last hope of participating in the World Health Assembly (WHA) by presenting a report on the country's efforts in fighting SARS came to nothing yesterday.

"We have done our best [to counter SARS] but we need more help, and we need it now," said new Department of Health Director-General Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), who was Taiwan's representative at the WHA.

Chen told the media after a technical meeting that he came to Geneva for humanitarian purposes and he regretted that some countries' request to allow Taiwan to make a briefing had been turned down.

The meeting saw two presentations, the first from David Heymann, the WHO's executive director of communicable diseases, and the second illustrating the WHO's global alert system and strategy.

WHO Secretary General Gro Harlem Brundtland then invited delegates to raise questions concerning the SARS outbreak.

To urge the WHA to respect Taiwan's existence, Liberia and Chad questioned the WHO's policy of ignoring the rights of Taiwan's 23 million people.

Liberia requested a technical briefing from Chen, even though the assembly's general committee had rejected a request for Taiwan to be given observer status at the WHA.

"We hope to hear from him. We hope Taiwan will not be left out this time," the Liberian delegate said.

The Chad delegate said that although SARS had not spread to Africa yet, the continent had to take preventive measures. It requested the WHO reconsider the application of Taiwan as "a country" to join the WHA as an observer.

"Can the WHO turn a deaf ear to health of the country's millions of people?" the delegate asked.

Brundtland cut short the Chad delegate's speech supporting Taiwan.

"We don't want to use this occasion to discuss the issue which has been raised before. This agenda is of a technical nature, not a political one," she said.

Meanwhile, several countries, including Ecuador, asked the WHO whether it would levy sanctions on countries that failed to submit accurate data or make all information accessible to the media.

In response to Liberia and Chad's questions, Heymann explained the WHO had dispatched experts from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to Taiwan from the very beginning.

He added that the WHO later increased its help to Taiwan by directly sending its own staff.

Panelist from six affected areas -- China, Hong Kong, Canada, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam -- presented reports on how the SARS outbreak had developed in their territories.

China, the first country to report, repeated its claim that China had taken care of Taiwan's SARS outbreak.

Michael Lai (賴明詔), an expert in coronavirus, the virus that causes SARS, also attended the technical briefing.

Lai said it would make a great difference if Taiwan could present its own SARS report.

"China doesn't really understand Taiwan's outbreak. They did not dispatch people to Taiwan," he said.

Lai said there was no link between Taiwan and China in terms of the containment of Taiwan's SARS outbreak.

"They could only learn of Taiwan's SARS development from the Internet," Lai said.

In response to the failure of Taiwan's bid to become a WHA observer, Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien (簡又新) asked China to apologize to Taiwan for obstructing its bid.

"The Chinese government should apologize to the people of Taiwan for having hurt the hearts of the 23 million people here by obstructing our bid to join the international health system," Chien said yesterday.

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