Sun, Jan 09, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Health experts see Taiwan role

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION At a conference about the WHO's International Health Regulations, several academics said that Taiwan could act as a regional leader

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan can play the role of regional leader during the World Health Organization's round of International Health Regulation (IHR) revisions next month, health officials and foreign academics said yesterday.

"Taiwan can play a key role in a global surveillance network to fend off infectious diseases. At the second round of negotiation, we will try to make our voices heard," said Peter Chang (張武修), director-general of the Department of Health's bureau of international cooperation. Chang was speaking during an international conference on the IHR in Taipei yesterday.

Taiwan failed in its bid to be included under the IHR when representatives from 152 countries at the WHO attended the first session of negotiations to revise the IHR last November.

During the 12-day meeting, Taiwan's diplomatic ally Nicaragua proposed revising Article 65 to include not only non-member states but also "territories" who can enforce codes of practice to prevent the spread of disease under the IHR umbrella, the Central News Agency reported.

If the proposal had passed, Taiwan would have been able to join the IHR as a territory and a health entity, bypassing the question of Taiwan's disputed status in the international community.

The WHO will convene a second negotiation on the IHR revisions this February. In May, the completed new IHR will be presented for adoption by the World Health Assembly. Chang did not disclose whether Taiwan will send delegates to the convention.

The intergovernmental meeting will focus on how to establish a global public health surveillance system by modernizing the IHR. Taiwan is hoping to share its SARS experience and reinforce the disease reporting system in Asia.

"I don't think [Taiwan's] prospect [of taking part in the monitoring system] is bright. The WHO cannot afford to antagonize the 1.3 billion people in China," said David Fidler, a professor of law at Indiana University, who attended the international conference on IHR yesterday.

The recognition issue will be the biggest hurdle facing Taiwan during this round of negotiations, he said.

"We are in a new world where public health and politics are not separate anymore. Public health people do not simply operate in a scientific environment, but in a political context. You can't have health sovereignty on one hand without political one in another ... It is not like a buffet table, where you have this bit of sovereignty and that bit of sovereignty over there," Fidler said.

Given China's strong opposition, Taiwan stands a slim chance of joining the IHR revision under the name of a formal member state, other academics observed.

"In the case of Taiwan, politics permeates every aspect of the society. I don't see Taiwan's chance to enter the IHR being boosted if Taipei does not resume dialogue with Beijing," said Pavel Suian, a professor at the Bogdan Voda University in Romania.

Despite the obstacles on Taiwan's long way to the negotiation table at the WHO, Taiwan has the potential to become a regional leader outside of the conference room, academics said.

"Given Taiwan's critical location in Asia and population density, Taiwan is on the cutting edge of disease prevention issues. With its economic strength and agile governance, Taiwan can contribute a lot to its Asian neighbors," said Fidler.

"During the SARS crisis, we saw that Taiwan was a responsible global citizen," said Michael Baker, principal investigator and co-director of the department of public health at the Wellington School of Medicine and Heath Science.

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