Thu, May 25, 2006 - Page 2 News List

WHO failure a step forward, officials say

`PRAGMATIC APPROACH' Just because Beijing blocked Taiwan's observership bid doesn't mean nothing useful was accomplished, the nation's top health official said

By Chang Yun-ping  /  STAFF REPORTER , IN GENEVA

Taiwan failed to become an observer at the World Health Assembly (WHA), as it has nine times previously, but government officials said on Tuesday that this year's failure marked a significant step forward.

One day after China thwarted the nation's effort to become a WHA observer, Minister of the Department of Health Hou Sheng-mou (侯勝茂) held a meeting with US Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt on Tuesday afternoon to discuss health issues.

In a press briefing after the meeting, Hou said Leavitt had written a letter on May 18 to WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook, who died suddenly on Monday, to express US support for Taiwan's observership bid.

In the letter, Leavitt urged the WHO Secretariat to include the nation in the Global Outbreak and Alert Response Network (GOARN) and to allow Taiwanese health experts full access to WHO technical meetings, in order to plug a gap in the global prevention network for avian flu, Hou said.

Leavitt also applauded Taiwan's voluntary early compliance with the International Health Regulations, which were adopted last May and will come into full enforcement by all WHO member states by June next year, Hou added.

Hou also said that Leavitt commended Taiwan's global health contributions in fighting AIDS in Malawi and countries in Central and South America, and recognized the fact that the expertise Taiwan offered mattered more than the financial support it could provide.

During an avian-flu meeting on Tuesday morning, a total of eight allies and five non-allies spoke in support of including Taiwan in the global avian flu prevention network.

The five non-allies were the US, Canada, Australia, Japan and Mongolia. The Mongolian support came as a surprise to Taiwan.

"We need visas in order to travel to the US, Switzerland and Taiwan, but a virus needs no visa to travel across national boundaries," the Mongolian delegate said, saying Taiwan should not be excluded from the world's disease prevention network.

Taipei Economic and Culture Delegation in Geneva Representative Shen Lyu-shun (沈呂巡) said that although Taiwan has failed to become an observer at the WHA, the degree of its participation in the WHO has significantly improved over the past two years.

"Although Taiwan's participation in the WHO has not been institutionalized, de facto contact [with many countries] has been established," Lu said, adding that most countries appreciated the nation's pragmatic approach in appealing for substantive and technical participation and avoiding the sensitive political issue of how Taiwan was represented in the international organization.

Taiwan has access to about 70 percent of GOARN activities and can participate in 90 percent of the WHO's technical meetings, Shen said. Taiwan also has direct contact with the WHO Secretariat.

During the SARS epidemic in 2003, the WHO was only able to send its technical experts to Taiwan six weeks after the outbreak, a delay caused by China's insistence that the WHO's assistance to the nation had to be approved by Beijing first.

Commenting on the memorandum of understanding signed between China and the WHO Secretariat last May, the officials said the document reflected the fact that China can no longer insist on excluding Taiwan from participating in the world health body.

"China was forced to [sign the agreement] because it can't stop the international trend toward recognizing the need for Taiwan to be part of the global public health system," said John Chen (陳忠), director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Department of International Organizations.

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