If there is one thing that the continuing spread and ravages of COVID-19 should have taught all the nations of the world, it is that Taiwan absolutely needs to be in the WHO and the World Health Assembly (WHA). It should be there, not simply as an observer as in the past, but as an active contributor and key player in all world health decisions and follow-up.
Numbers do not lie.
One can cite the hypothetical and “purely political” reasons as to why Taiwan’s perspective has some vague representation through China, but in such times of crisis as now, the WHO and other nations need a reality check.
Numbers do not lie. Let that be the starting point for this discussion.
By the middle of this month, the US had topped the world in the number of virus cases and deaths; as of yesterday, it had more than 759,000 cases and more than 40,000 deaths. That number continues to grow and would be much larger in the near future. The US has not peaked.
Taiwan on the other hand, has had 395 cases and six deaths. Why?
Immediately, of course, someone will be tempted to jump in and respond that the US is much larger than Taiwan, so its numbers would naturally be higher.
However, that excuse falls completely flat when one looks more deeply into it from additional perspectives.
The US has 50 states. However, only two US states are larger in population than Taiwan. California has more that 39 million citizens and Texas has about 28 million. Taiwan, on the other hand, has about 23 million citizens. If Taiwan were a US state, it would be the US’s third-largest state by population.
Add to this the fact that Taiwan is much smaller and more compact than California or Texas and most other US states. As its population is more densely packed into a much smaller area and high density is a major risk factor in virus spread, Taiwan should be at greater risk of spreading the virus. Yet Taiwan has had only six deaths.
If you take the number of US cases and deaths, and divide that by 50, its number of states, that averages out to about 12,700 cases per state and 640 deaths per state.
Taiwan, as a hypothetical third-largest US state with a much more densely populated area, has only 395 cases and six deaths.
More is revealed by applying those same numbers and comparisons to the five nations in Europe that lead in the number of virus infections and deaths: Spain, Italy, the UK, Germany and France.
Of those nations, Germany has the largest population, about 83 million, which is a little less than four times the population of Taiwan. The others have about three times the population of Taiwan, except for Spain, which has twice the population of Taiwan.
However, when it comes to the number of cases and deaths, these nations far outclass Taiwan. Italy, which is only three times the size of Taiwan, has more than 23,000 deaths compared with Taiwan’s six.
The others follow suit, down to Germany, which has the least number of cases and deaths, but still pales in comparison. Germany has more than 145,000 cases and more than 4,600 deaths when compared with Taiwan’s 395 cases and six deaths.
Numbers do not lie.
This is the reality check that all the other nations need to make and then ask two realistic questions:
First, why does Taiwan have so few cases and deaths when it is so close to the epicenter of the virus in China and has had so many of its citizens fleeing back from China to their homeland? Why is Taiwan punching far above its weight?
Second, why is Taiwan, which leads in control of the virus and protection of its citizens, not in the WHO/WHA?
The answers are obvious and do not need to be spelled out. China continually plays zero-sum games in various world organization memberships, because it covets Taiwan’s property, location and assets.
Again, it might be asked: What about the numbers from China, the source and cause of the virus? Why are they not quoted?
While China has shown admirable efforts to control the virus after it had been let loose on the world, China’s numbers are still very unreliable.
China first tried to pretend that the virus was non-existent; it even punished those who blew the whistle.
Later, when it became obvious that the virus could not be contained and was spreading rapidly around the world, China reversed its stance.
However, its credibility had been already lost. China, with its billions of people, now claims roughly the same amount of deaths as does Germany. It also claims a little more than 83,000 cases compared with Germany’s more than 145,000. Those numbers raise obvious credibility questions for China, the source of the virus.
All this returns to the issue of Taiwan’s absence from the WHO/WHA. Why does the nation, which could offer the best advice and methods to control the virus, remain a pariah, outcast as far as the WHO/WHA are concerned?
The WHO has unfortunately shown itself to be the proverbial “running dog” of China.
Other nations are not guilt-free in this; they have not ignored Taiwan, but they have still allowed the WHO and the WHA to give it short shrift.
With a world pandemic on the line, the time has come for all nations to stop playing these zero-sum political games at the whim of China. It is time for them to recognize what the numbers are saying about what nation is on top of the curve and what nation has been excluded from a vital position in the WHO/ WHA.
Ideologies and political preferences be damned; the death counts are rising. If the WHO/WHA cannot rectify this reality, it is time for all nations to consider why are they funding a useless monstrosity that constantly needs to be revamped.
Numbers do not lie. Taiwan belongs in the WHO/WHA.
Jerome Keating is a writer based in Taipei.
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