Wed, May 25, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Questions remain over wording of WHO's new IHR

REALLY HELPFUL?The Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims the addition of two words to the International Health Regulations will be of benefit to this country

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

A group of Taiwanese diplomats waited patiently last Tuesday in a corridor outside a committee room in the Palais des Nations, the UN building in Geneva, as delegates to the World Health Assembly (WHA) met to discuss revisions of the International Health Regulations (IHR).

It was one day after the WHA rejected Taiwan's ninth application for observer status.

Barred from attending the WHA, the World Health Organization's (WHO) top decision-making body, the Taiwanese diplomats hoped that with the insertion of the words "universal application" into the revised IHR, Taiwan might still have a chance to participate in the UN agency's activities.

The IHR is the WHO's global legal framework for infectious disease control.

When Dr. Solomon Chen (陳志成), a Taiwanese, who became one of the Malawian delegates to the WHA because of his contributions to that African country, emerged from the committee room, he was immediately surrounded by the Taiwanese diplomats, who eagerly asked him what had happened in the committee meeting.

The envoys could only learn what took place in closed-door WHA meetings by asking delegates from Taiwan's diplomatic allies.

Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Michael Kau (高英茂), the most senior-ranking official from Taiwan in Geneva for the WHA, was often seen in intense discussions with other Taiwanese diplomats on the sidelines of the assembly.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials who went to Geneva worked fervently for the country's bid and for the revisions of the IHR.

One told reporters from Taipei: "You can rest after your deadline. We have to keep working."

The WHA adopted the new IHR on Monday and the foreign ministry was pleased to see the words "universal application" in the rules.

The ministry said in a press release that it welcomed the adoption of the IHR. It said addition of the words "universal application" was the result of the country's long-time diplomatic efforts.

Some Chinese-language papers have called Article 3 of the IHR "the Taiwan Article." It states the regulations "shall be guided by the goal of their universal application for the protection of all people of the world" from the international spread of disease.

But nowhere in the new IHR was Taiwan been mentioned. Nor can people easily perceive a connection between the words "universal application" and Taiwan's participation in the WHO.

Moreover, the principle of "universal application" is nothing new to the WHO Constitution. Article 1 of the Constitution said the objective of the WHO "shall be the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health."

Yet the WHO has failed to take care of the health of the 23 million people in Taiwan. Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) Legislator Lai Hsin-yuan (賴幸媛) said the real problem with the "universal application" principle is whether the WHO can actually execute it.

The foreign ministry has yet to explain how the new IHR can help Taiwan physically participate in the WHO. The ministry said the Center for Disease Control (CDC), could serve as a "National IHR Focal Point."

The IHR defines the focal point as "the national center" designed by each "state party" to be accessible at all times for communications with WHO IHR Contact Points under the regulations.

It is doubtful whether the WHO would agree to accept the CDC as a national IHR focal point since the WHO Secretariat signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with China on May 14 to "facilitate" technical exchanges between the WHO and Taiwan.

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