Mon, May 24, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Tough time for Taiwanese at health assembly

IN THE COLD The Taiwanese `delegation' to the WHO conference tried its best to sway delegates, but at all levels, the health body showed it was not interested

By Joy Su  /  STAFF REPORTER , IN GENEVA

Perhaps for Taiwan, the World Health Assembly (WHA) is as much about what happens outside the conference room as it is the decisions made by delegates on the assembly floor.

Roughly 100 Taiwanese non-governmental representatives, legislators, government officials and reporters were in Geneva for the WHA's annual meeting last week.

Holding signs and flags outside the UN building where the conference was being held; passing out flyers reading "WHO cares?"; calling China a "big liar" during WHA proceedings; wearing surgical masks while listening in on the assembly; in all these ways, Taiwan supporters made their presence felt at the WHA.

Last year, newspapers put pictures on their front pages of Lin Shih-chia (林志嘉), executive director of the Foundation of Medical Professionals Alliance in Taiwan, crying when Taiwan's application was turned down.

This year, Lin, now six months pregnant, carried a sign reading "WHO cares for my kids?"

"The WHO fails to protect the health of all Taiwanese, including that of the baby in my womb," Lin said. "I think all mothers would agree ... I do not want my kids to have to face the same problem when they get to be my age."

This year was also the first year that the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan decided to participate. Just hours before the start of the health assembly, Presbyterian Church General Secretary William Lo (羅榮光) walked the streets outside the WHA meeting passing out fliers to strangers.

Not recognizing a group of reporters to be Taiwanese, Lo approached them and asked them to support Taiwan's entry into the WHO.

Even during the conference, the Taiwanese "delegation" made its presence felt.

Former Department of Health director-general Twu Shiing-jer (涂醒哲) sat in the public gallery wearing a surgical mask that brought back memories of Taiwan's SARS outbreak.

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tony Jian (簡肇棟) made a more audible protest when the WHA president asked if there were any objections to the agenda.

"China big liar, SARS terribly, China worse," he shouted before being escorted out of the room.

Taiwanese efforts were not well received in other areas either.

The exclusion of Taiwan from the WHA went beyond its exclusion from the health body or the denial of a seat for the Taiwanese delegation on the assembly floor.

It occurred on all levels, even the seemingly insignificant details.

Beginning with the decision to withhold press passes from Taiwanese journalists, to regulations preventing reporters from leaving and re-entering the public gallery, significant restraints were put on the Taiwanese press.

The public gallery passes were issued to anyone interested in listening in on the proceedings of the WHA.

While increased threats to the UN had been the purported reason for denial of press passes to Taiwanese reporters, public gallery passes were nevertheless issued to Taiwanese passport holders. Reporters were forced to listen in on the WHA from the public gallery.

Once in the public gallery, however, reporters could not leave and re-enter. Thus, in order to keep an eye on the conference, several reporters were forced to sit for upwards of four hours without using the restroom or leaving the room.

Reporters noted, however, that others in the public gallery were not subject to the same regulations. In addition, when Department of Health Director-General Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) sat down in the press seats, he was asked to leave by a security guard.

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