Thu, Aug 05, 2004 - Page 1 News List

WHO exclusion hindering fight against HIV: official


Shunned by the World Health Organization (WHO), Taiwan has had to rely on informal sources outside the country to deal with major outbreaks of diseases, including SARS and the avian flu currently striking some Asian countries, Department of Health Director-General Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) said on Tuesday.

Chen, who was attending a conference in New York, expressed exasperation that the informal contacts within and outside foreign governments have led the country to a situation of having a "not complete, not direct and immediate" response to a disease outbreak.

"There is a gap," he said, when it comes to providing health care to millions of people without international assistance in dealing with global diseases like HIV/AIDS and the more regional SARS and the avian flu, which has occurred in some Asian countries in the past three years.

Taiwan can attend a WHO meeting only if China allows it. But the country can contact and cooperate with universities, research laboratories and health organizations around the world if it needs help.

Chen said SARS may return in winter because of Taiwan's proximity with China, where SARS and the avian flu originated. He said that every day an estimated 15,000 Taiwanese return from China to visit their families, and some of them may carry viruses related to those diseases. An estimated 1 million Taiwanese and their families are working in China.

Chen said there was currently no case of avian flu or SARS in the country, but the possibility of a new outbreak is real.

The government is monitoring activities at airports and seaports to detect visitors with signs of dengue fever and other communicable diseases, he said. A country-wide surveillance system implemented in 1998 is aimed at collecting samples from chickens and migratory birds that may carry the virus.

Taiwan has applied for observer status in the World Health Assembly. At the last assembly meeting in May, the US, Japan and a handful of countries supporting Taiwan voted in favor of the country's observer-status bid. But those votes were insufficient to break the majority of opposition led by China.

Chen described the positive votes by the US and Japan as a "turning point" for the campaign to join the WHO, but he declined to predict when Taiwan can join.

While in New York, Chen addressed the 16th conference of the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology at New York University.

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