Fri, Feb 14, 2020 - Page 3 News List

Virus Outbreak: Ex-health heads push WHO petition

By Dennis Xie  /  Staff writer, with CNA

Five former health ministers from across party lines yesterday called on people to sign a petition pushing for Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHO amid global concern about a COVID-19 outbreak in China.

Taiwan attended the World Health Assembly (WHA), the WHO’s decisionmaking body, as an observer from 2009 to 2016, but has been denied entry since then due to pressure from Beijing.

Despite concern about the outbreak, Taiwan was denied entry at WHO emergency meetings for COVID-19, until Tuesday and Wednesday, when Taiwanese delegates were allowed to remotely join a research and development forum.

“Taiwan should be a member state at the WHO, or at least be a WHA observer,” Control Yuan President Chang Po-ya (張博雅) told a news conference in Taipei, adding that the target was 5 million signatures.

Membership in the WHO is a matter of public health and disease prevention, not politics, and it is humankind that suffers if prevention efforts for COVID-19 are not in place, said Chang, who was director of the department of health, the forerunner to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, from 1990 to 1997.

Former department of health directors Twu Shiing-jer (涂醒哲), Yeh Ching-chuan (葉金川) and Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良), and former minister of health and welfare Lin Tzou-yien (林奏延), also endorsed the petition.

As a sovereign nation, Taiwan has a right to a presence at the WHO, and excluding Taiwan not only infringes on the health rights of Taiwanese, but also sacrifices other countries’ rights, as they would miss Taiwan’s contributions, Twu said.

Taiwan has great healthcare and disease prevention systems, and never conceals epidemic situations, Yaung said, adding that although Taiwan and China have close ethnic and cultural connections, their political systems are completely different.

“It is wrong that China has been using politics to interfere with [Taiwan’s] disease prevention efforts,” he said.

Yuang called on Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), who he said is the “biggest Taiwanese independence activist,” to keep a clearer head, as his continuous marginalization of Taiwan and military intimidation would only lead more Taiwanese to lean toward independence.

“I give Taiwan 98 percent for its prevention efforts against the novel coronavirus,” Lin said, adding that unlike the 2003 SARS epidemic no deaths or community infections have occurred so far.

“These achievements rank among the best in the world,” Lin added.

Credit for successful disease prevention goes to the government’s strategies and utilization of technology after it set up an infectious disease prevention network after SARS, tightened disease prevention measures at hospitals, conducted annual on-site simulation drills and established virus labs, Lin said.

Taiwan can contribute to global health by lending its experience to developing countries, Lin said.

The WHO on Tuesday officially named the coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, COVID-19.

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