Sat, Mar 22, 2008 - Page 4 News List

Former US health official backs Taiwan's WHO bid

By Angelica Oung  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan deserves to be a part of the WHO, especially as the threat of another flu pandemic looms, former US secretary of health and human services Tommy Thompson said on Thursday in Taipei.

Thompson was health secretary during the SARS outbreak in 2003. Recalling that time, he criticized China for refusing the offers of help from abroad in late 2002.

"I always wonder in the back of my mind, if I had been able to send my epidemiologists into mainland China in November, whether or not we could have prevented SARS from spreading around the world," he said.

When SARS spread to Taiwan, requests by the Department of Health to get information, first from China then from the WHO, were rejected, Thompson said.

"But when they called America, through me, I immediately sent 100 individuals from the Center for Disease Control," he said.

Although Taiwan's bid to become an observer in the WHA has been repeatedly rejected, it was not for the lack of US support, he said.

"The people of the United States have done everything we possibly can to further that cause," he said. "We lost out."

In addition to reiterating US support for Taiwan to become an WHA observer, Thompson said he thought Taiwan deserves full membership in the WHO eventually.

"I think we should support you becoming a full member, but you have to start someplace," he said.

In a speech at Taipei Medical University Hospital on Thursday, Thompson said "medical diplomacy" would be a valuable tool for Taiwan in the long run to generate support for its diplomatic efforts around the world.

Department of Health Minister Hou Sheng-mou (侯盛茂) said Taiwan provides medical aid through a number of agencies, including Taiwan International Health Action, which dispatches medical teams and supplies to medical emergencies around the globe.

Hospital president Hsu Chung-yi (許重義) said medical students have been sent to India, Africa and South and Central America.

"You can change attitudes and opinions if you do right," Thompson said. "That is going to pay you dividends, though it may not get you a [WHA] vote the next year."

"China has got tremendous economic power, but I don't think there is anything more important than medical diplomacy to start changing the minds and hearts of people," he said.

Thompson said that it was in the best interest of other countries, including China, not to leave Taiwan out of worldwide disease prevention efforts.

"There have been 10 flu pandemics in the last 300 years," he said. "It is not a question of if, but when the next one is going to come."

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