Wed, May 17, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Tenth bid to join WHA commences

UPHILL BATTLE An official said the nation was aiming this year for `meaningful participation' in the annual global health body if it can't receive observer status

By Chang Yun-ping  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan yesterday officially launched its 10th bid to gain observer status at the World Health Assembly (WHA), striving for "meaningful participation" in the body's annual meeting that is scheduled to begin next week, government officials announced yesterday.

The WHA -- the World Health Organization's highest decision-making body -- will convene its annual assembly in Geneva from next Monday through Saturday.

"Apart from gaining observer status at the WHA, which has always been our goal, another important goal this year is to strive for meaningful participation -- in which our health experts are allowed to participate in WHO-sponsored meetings," vice foreign minister Michael Kau (高英茂) said yesterday.

Kau made the remarks at a press conference jointly held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Department of Health and the Government Information Office regarding the nation's application to enter the world health body.

The term "meaningful participation" entails the inclusion of Taiwan in a global infectious disease alert and response system, the implementation of the International Health Regulations, and Taiwan's participation in WHO-sponsored technical meetings as well as in activities of its six regional offices.

The nation's Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced on Monday that it would volunteer to go ahead with early implementation of the regulations, which are the WHO's global legal framework for infectious disease control. The health assembly passed the regulations last year and decided to begin global implementation in the second half of this year.

The regulations aim to bolster global systems for the quarantine, surveillance, reporting and verification of infectious diseases. By implementing the regulations, the CDC will become a window of contact between Taiwan and the global health community, Kau said.

Kau said that last year, Taiwan participated in 14 out of a total of 32 WHA meetings it requested joining. Taiwan's participation in the meetings depended on whether China was opposed or not, he said.

The WHO Secretariat signed a memorandum of understanding with China last year in which it agreed that Beijing's permission would be required for Taiwan's participation in any WHO activities.

The memorandum was a bilateral agreement between the WHO and China, and most of its contents remain unknown to Taiwanese officials.

Minister of Health Hou Sheng-mou (侯勝茂) said that the memorandum required that all Taiwanese applications to join meetings must be submitted four to five weeks in advance, and that the WHO would allow China to appoint the Taiwanese individual who could join a particular.

"The officials allowed to join the meeting are usually low-ranking, and the response [from China] has varied," Hou said.

Hou said whether or not Taiwan could attend a meeting appeared to be decided by China in a "random" manner.

Kau said that striving for "meaningful participation" in the WHA's activities was even more significant than gaining observer status at the assembly.

"Gaining observer status is a highly difficult task, as China regards this as an issue of politics and sovereignty. It's gotten more and more difficult in recent years as China has intensified its `sovereign diplomacy and big country diplomacy' to squeeze out any possible international space for Taiwan," he said.

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