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Tue, Aug 01, 2000 - Page 3 News List

Larger diplomatic role seen for aid groups

GLOBAL AWARENESS President Chen Shui-bian said the country should continue its efforts in expanding humanitarian aid to help achieve its diplomatic objectives

By Liu Shao-hua  /  STAFF REPORTER

"Taiwan must play an active role in international organizations. Membership in the UN is just one aspect of this. It is not the whole story," President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said yesterday, at his second formal press conference to adress the nation since he took office.

Last week Chen expressed a similar view at a symposium called "Taiwan NGOs: Marching Toward the 21st Century," at the Taipei International Convention Center.

On that occasion he said, "NGOs can play an influential role in international affairs and change the formerly state-guided approach to policymaking."

In response to China's objection's, Taiwan has had to adopt a twin strategy in the pursuit of its aim to rejoin the international community, consisting of official diplomacy on the one hand and broadening support for NGOs involved in international aid on the other.

"Medical aid would be the first priority for Taiwan's international aid," said Andrew Hsia (夏立言), director of the International Organization Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).

"We hope to provide top notch medical aid to the world and thereby win international support for membership in the World Health Organization (WHO)," said Hsia.

The WHO has been considered the least politicized of UN agencies and hence is widely expected in Taiwan to be the first UN agency to accept Taiwan's membership.

Taiwan lost its WHO membership in 1971 when the PRC took over the ROC seat at the UN.

The US Congress passed an act last October to express its support for Taiwanese membership of the WHO. "But the prerequisite is that Taiwan present its medical aid credentials to the world," said a MOFA official who declined to be identified.

So far, there are less than ten NGOs in Taiwan providing medical assistance to developing countries on varying scales and in differing fashions. All provide only temporary relief, an approach widely considered by international groups as somewhat ineffective.

MOFA is the only Taiwan organization providing long-term medical aid, which it supplies to some African countries with which Taiwan has diplomatic relations.

From the mid 1990s, MOFA has signed understandings on medical cooperation with six African countries: Burkina Faso, Chad, Sao Tome and Principe, Malawi, Senegal and Gambia.

In accordance with the terms of such understandings, MOFA has also dispatched long-term medical teams consisting of between 5 and 15 people to Burkina Faso, Chad, Sao Tome and Principe and Malawi.

Both short-term aid provided by NGOs and long-term governmental aid are hampered, however, by the shortage of manpower in the medical profession.

MOFA has asked the Department of Health (DOH) to assist in the dispatch of eight to 10 doctors to African countries.

The DOH, however, responded, in April this year, saying that Taiwan is also short of doctors, making it very difficult to supply medical professionals for overseas aid.

"MOFA's recruitment of medical doctors to serve abroad is too shortsighted and does not consider these doctors' career plans," said Chen Chi-cheng (陳志成), a pediatrician, recruited by MOFA to serve Kosovar refugees in Macedonia.

The grading system for medical doctors causes difficulties for doctors who are considering working abroad, according to some doctors attending the symposium.

They added that, "medical education in Taiwan focuses far too little on issues relating to patient care, resulting in the fact that many doctors serving abroad do so for high salaries rather than out of a genuine concern to provide humanitarian aid."

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