Sun, May 28, 2006 - Page 2 News List

WHO exclusion puts the world at risk, writer says

LOOPHOLE Keeping Taiwan out of the WHO means there's a huge gap in the global health surveillance and emergency alert network, a US commentator said


Taiwan's exclusion from the WHO is not only unfair to the people of this country but has also put the world at risk, a US commentator wrote in an article published on Friday in the Washington Times.

"Generally, China's far-reaching campaign to isolate Taiwan impacts mostly on the Taiwanese. But in keeping the island of 23 million out of the WHO, it endangers us all," wrote Don Feder, a consultant and freelance writer based in Massachusetts.

Feder said that because of China's obstruction, Taiwan was again denied access to the World Health Assembly this year, at a time when representatives of almost every nation in the world are present in Geneva discussing a potential avian flu pandemic.

The situation has resulted in "a gap wide enough to drive a plague" in the global health surveillance and response network and has placed "an unfair burden on 23 million people who are punished for being born in a place coveted by another nation," Feder wrote.

Feder said that Taiwan was a hub of international trade and transportation, with 21 million passengers arriving and departing on 175,230 international flights in 2004.

Also, Taiwan maintains frequent cargo and visitor exchanges with Southeast Asia -- a hot zone for avian flu -- with 1.43 million Taiwanese visiting Southeast Asia and 570,000 Southeast Asian citizens visiting Taiwan in 2004, he said.

In addition, an estimated 1.25 million migratory birds of 351 species pass through Taiwan annually, he added.

"All this spells potential disaster. Viruses don't respect national boundaries -- nor do they take cognizance of China's territorial claims," Feder said.

He said that in 2003 when Taiwan was hit by SARS, it took the WHO seven weeks to respond to Taipei's pleas for help and that Taiwan was barred from access to meetings of WHO experts, including video-conferences, for almost two months.

"Taiwan's politically imposed isolation from the international health network helped to transform what could have been a mild SARS outbreak into a tragedy that claimed 73 lives," he said.

He said that long before that, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution in 1998 calling on the administration of former US president Bill Clinton to support Taiwan's participation in the WHO.

Feder urged the world not to compromise its ability to track, respond to and contain the next global epidemic "to feed Beijing's fantasies that it controls Taiwan."

"We're no longer just talking about fairness for Taiwan but the health and well-being of us all," he said.

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