As the cross-strait agreement on health cooperation has failed to make information on the H7N9 bird flu outbreak in China more accessible to Taiwan, the government should urge China to honor its promises under the accord and to seek help from the WHO and other countries to preempt a possible epidemic, academics said yesterday.
China has failed to abide by two provisions set forth in the 2010 Cross-Strait Cooperation Agreement on Medicine and Public Health Affairs to enable Taiwan to take precautionary actions to prevent the H7N9 virus entering the country, former Department of Health minister Twu Shiing-jer (涂醒哲) said.
Under the agreement, both parties are obligated to notify the other about communicable diseases that may constitute or have constituted serious emergent public health events at the earliest possible time and to continue communication and notification of relevant information, he said.
Upon the request of one party, the party on which side a serious epidemic occurs should make available information about the epidemic investigation and consider assisting the other side in understanding the epidemic situation on site, he added.
“With or without the agreement, China should allow on-site visits by health experts not only from Taiwan, but also from the WHO and other countries to assist in identifying the source of the epidemic,” Twu said.
President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration forsook the idea of WHO membership as it thought that signing the agreement would bring Taiwan under the umbrella of epidemic prevention, but now “that has been proved wrong,” Twu said.
Yesterday evening, the Centers for Disease Control said it would send staff to China to gain a better understanding of the situation, but did not reveal details such as who it would send, when the trip would begin and which areas it may inspect.
Considering the frequent exchange of travelers between Taiwan and China, the government has to get China to agree to allow Taiwanese health experts to go to China, Taipei Medical University professor Chang Wu-shou (張武修) said.
All information communicated to and received from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) should be transmitted in real time to Taiwan, Chang said.
The government should also contact the WHO, the US and Japan, with whom Taiwan has signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in health issues, to seek their help in obtaining H7N9 prototype strains from China for the development of an influenza vaccine, Chang said.
Despite the Cross-Strait Cooperation Agreement on Medicine and Public Health Affairs, it is unlikely that China would be willing to provide Taiwan with H7N9 prototype strains, because, in its eyes, Taiwan is equivalent to Jiangsu Province and Zhejiang Province where cases of the H7N9 bird flu virus have been detected, he said.
Former health minister Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良) also called on China to improve its opaque handling of the disease and to follow the provisions set forth under the agreement and give first-hand information to Taiwan.
Taiwan would not have signed the agreement with China if the only information it could receive was from the Web site of China CDC, he said.
Yaung said the agreement, signed when he was in office, thoroughly covers the necessary scope of cooperation needed for the prevention and control of epidemics, but that China has to implement the provisions to make it effective.