Sat, May 17, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Will this epidemic really help at WHO?

Having already suffered great losses in the war against SARS, Department of Health Director-General Twu Shiing-jer has resigned. On the eve of tendering his resignation, Twu talked with `Taipei Times' staff reporter Melody Chen about his belief that the SARS outbreak has underscored the urgent need for the World Health Organization to open its doors and let Taiwan back in.

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER


Taipei Times: What do you think about Taiwan's chances of being granted observer status at the WHO this year ?

Twu Shiing-jer (涂醒哲): The SARS outbreak is very grave now. During this SARS outbreak, many people became aware that Taiwan, barred from the WHO, has been like an orphan in the fight against the disease.

The SARS storm has also awakened many countries. They have to face a question now: which matters more -- health for the international community or politics? The recognition Taiwan has gained has been increasing.

TT: As all health officials have been committed to containing SARS, has the preparation to join the WHO been hampered?

Twu: We [the SARS-fighting teams] find it difficult to strike a balance between our work against SARS and preparation for the World Health Assembly (WHA) meeting [in Geneva starting on Monday]. We convened fewer meetings to discuss the WHO bid. With SARS raging, we are much busier and cannot concentrate on the WHA.

Nevertheless, the climate to join the WHA is much better than last year's. Owing to SARS, many foreign media have interviewed us.

Even President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has written a letter to the Washington Post. SARS has presented more opportunities for Taiwan to enter the WHO.

TT: Has the reporting by theforeign media helped or hampered Taiwan's chances of entering the WHO?

Twu: I think their reporting has done more good than harm to our bid to join the WHO. Some reporting, like CNN's, focused on our SARS outbreak. It did not cover our appeal to join the WHO. They [foreign media] thought what the world was interested in was the development of SARS in Taiwan.

For example, people would like to know whether Taiwan is still a safe place to travel. Foreign governments wanted to know whether they should impose travel restrictions on Taiwan. Whether Taiwan joined the WHO or not was a minor concern to them. Foreign media covered very little on our appeal to join the WHO.

Besides, whether Taiwan has been doing well in containing SARS has no direct relationship with its chance to enter the WHO. People should ask why the WHO did not dispatch experts to Taiwan at an earlier stage. They should ask why the WHO experts came seven weeks after our first SARS was reported.

The WHO sent officials to Singapore to give warning against the emerging disease a week before the country's first SARS case was reported. The WHO would actively inform Singapore of a new disease. Why did it treat Taiwan and Singapore so differently? Because Singapore is a WHO member but Taiwan is not.

The WHO is unfair and unjust in barring Taiwan anyway. Some people might think that the SARS outbreak has tarnished Taiwan's reputation.

But a good reputation is not essential for joining the WHO. Perhaps some countries think Taiwan should join the WHO exactly because it did not do very well in containing the disease.

TT: American and Japanese high-ranking officials have publicly voiced support for Taiwan's bid to enter the WHA as an observer. Would their support boost our chances of becoming a member of the WHO?

Twu: It was the first time Japan publicly voiced support for us. The US has expressed support for our bid before. But its support came after the assembly. This time, both countries made their stance known before the WHA. It makes a great difference whether they express support before or after the assembly. Their support is encouraging.

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