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Tue, Oct 31, 2000 - Page 3 News List

Health officials plan to protest WHO oversight

By Liu Shao-hua  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Department of Health plans to protest a decision by the World Health Organization (WHO) to leave Taiwan off a list of a polio-free countries that was released in Kyoto, Japan on Sunday.

Thirty-seven countries in the western Pacific region were declared polio-free by the organization. China was also on the list, and Taiwan was included as a part of China.

"The success of polio eradication in Taiwan does not equate to China's situation," Lee Ming-liang (李明亮), the health department's director-general, said a press conference yesterday.

The WHO said that polio had been eradicated in 37 countries, including China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam. That led the group to declare the west Pacific region polio-free, the second region in the world since the Americas in 1994 to receive the designation.

Health officials noted yesterday that Taiwan has been polio-free since 1985, as there have been no reported cases since that year.

"But mainly for political reasons the WHO has overlooked Taiwan's accomplishment in polio eradication," Lee said.

Hsu Hsu-mei (許須美), deputy director-general at the Center for Disease Control, said health officials have spoken to WHO officials about the polio report in the past and had asked to attend the WHO regional meeting in Kyoto on Sunday.

"But Taiwan is not a WHO member state and was excluded," Hsu said.

The Republic of China was one of the WHO's founding members and has donated funds to its worldwide polio eradication program.

"The WHO still allows political issues to distort recognition of Taiwan's achievement," members of the Medical Professionals Alliance in Taiwan (台灣醫界聯盟) said yesterday.

Health officials established the Taiwan Polio Eradication Certification Committee in 1996. Two years later, Tony Adams, chairman of the WHO's west Pacific regional operations, was invited to Taiwan to learn more about the eradication of polio in this country.

"The WHO de facto recognized Taiwan as polio-free, otherwise it wouldn't declare the west Pacific region as polio-free," Hsu said.

The WHO's list on Sunday did not include North Korea and Indonesia. Despite the WHO's political snubs, health department officials said yesterday that Taiwan was committed to helping the organization eradicate polio around the world by 2005.

"We've donated more than US$1 million through Rotary International to the WHO's worldwide polio eradication program last year," Hsu said. "Taiwan will donate US$10 million, divided between the government and Rotary International in Taiwan, to WHO in installments over five years."

But health officials noted that Taiwan won't be recognized on the WHO's donor list because the sponsorship was done through Rotary International. The WHO declined to accept Taiwan's donation in the name of Taiwan.

Despite the WHO's exclusion, officials say they support the organization's goal of fighting disease around the world.

"Following the WHO's goal, our next target is measles," Hsu said. "We will devote ourselves to its eradication and will show the world Taiwan's success in public health."

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