Taiwan can now communicate directly with the WHO on major disease outbreaks without having to go through Beijing as it officially adhered the International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced yesterday,
Citing the new policy as a “major breakthrough” in Taiwan’s 12-year struggle for direct access to the health body, CDC Director Steven Kuo (郭旭崧) told a press conference yesterday that “this is a positive move and we will keep in touch with the WHO to see [that this new development] gets implemented.”
“But the IHR do not cover WHO activities in their entirety and cannot replace observer status at the World Health Assembly [WHA],” he said. “We will continue our efforts to become a WHA observer.”
Kuo said that in a letter dated Jan. 13, Bernard Kean, executive director at the WHO’s Office of the Director-General, notified Taiwan of its official inclusion in the health framework.
Ratified in 2005 and effective since June 2007, the IHR is a set of legally binding rules on international commitment to disease surveillance, alert and response management.
The WHO Web site states that IHR 2005 provides “public health response in the form of obligations and standing or temporary non-binding recommendations in ways that avoid unnecessary interference with international travel and trade.”
Kuo said Kean’s letter was a response to two requests made in 2005 and 2006 by Taiwan to be included in the health framework.
Unlike a previous letter in 2005, the words “Taiwan, China” did not appear in Kean’s letter, Kuo said. The letter was addressed to “CDC Director in Taipei” while the content referred to the CDC as “contact point in Taipei,” he said.
Taiwan was expelled from the WHO in 1972, one year after the People’s Republic of China gained a seat at the UN. In 1993, Taiwan launched a campaign to rejoin the UN and other UN-affiliated organizations, including the WHO.
The efforts did not succeed, largely due to obstruction from Beijing.
“In the past, Taiwan never got what it wanted. Taiwan always had to depend on itself without international assistance when facing major disease outbreaks. Now, as part of the IHR, Taiwan will be included in the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network and be in sync with the rest of the world on the latest updates on epidemics,” CDC Deputy-Director Chou Jih-haw (周志浩) said.
Both the Department of Health and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) welcomed the gesture as a sign that cross-strait relations were shifting in a positive direction.
“We are pleased with the news, but we will not stop our efforts to become an observer at the annual World Health Assembly,” Ministry spokesman Henry Chen (陳銘政) said.
ADITIONAL REPORTING BY DPA