As a representative of the Taiwan Nurses Association, a long-time member of the International Council of Nurses (ICN), I attended the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Switzerland, on May 18 and 19 as an ICN representative.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting was held virtually through videoconferencing, with a special focus on pandemic response measures, and results reported and shared by the WHO, its member states and non-state actors, such as the ICN.
Compared with past assemblies that normally lasted for six days, this year’s meeting was held in a very rushed manner. As it was the first time the meeting was held via videoconferencing, the WHO showed an apparent lack of management and efficiency, while member states were thrown into confusion by technical issues, such as communication and translation problems.
Having said that, this was the first WHA I have attended where I felt “the sense of pride in our country” that President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) mentioned in her May 20 inaugural address.
During the assembly, Taiwan was explicitly mentioned in the speeches delivered by the US, Japan, Malta and many of the nation’s diplomatic allies, calling for the WHO to include Taiwan.
Palauan Minister of Health Emais Roberts said emotionally: “Taiwan was the first country to lend Palau a helping hand” after the outbreak.
Palau now has all the equipment, supplies and training it needs to fight COVID-19 thanks to “the simple act of kindness and solidarity from Taiwan and many other member states in this meeting,” he added.
During the Adoption of the Agenda session on the first day, the WHA also discussed the proposal “Inviting Taiwan to participate in the World Health Assembly as an observer,” which was submitted by the nation’s 14 diplomatic allies — to the General Committee for consideration.
This contradicts a statement by the New Power Party, which said in a misleading Facebook post on May 18 that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had accepted the suggestion of diplomatic allies that Taiwan’s participation should not be proposed at the WHA.
The proposal was discussed on the first day, when the president of this year’s assembly, Keva Lorraine Bain, suggested postponing it to later this year when the meeting resumes. At that time, the WHA will deal with the proposal according to relevant procedural regulations by sending it to the General Committee for consideration, and the committee will then make a recommendation to the full WHA body on whether to add it to the agenda.
It is worth mentioning that the WHO has designated this year as the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. During the opening ceremony, representatives from across the globe applauded nurses and all health workers for their crucial role in the fight against COVID-19 and their significant contribution to global health.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in his opening remarks: “This Assembly was intended to be a moment of recognition for the incredible contribution that nurses and midwives make every day in every country. The pandemic has robbed us of that opportunity, but it has only served to illustrate why nurses, midwives and all health workers are so important.”
As this year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, the WHO also took the opportunity to recognize the importance of nurses and midwives, and said that they are needed if we are to progress toward universal health coverage and health for all.
Nightingale single-handedly reversed the image of nurses and raised their social status, and this year the world thanks and honors the sublime deeds of nurses and healthcare workers who always firmly hold on to their jobs and never refrain from taking part in every single fight against disease.
Apart from the popular image of the “Lady with the Lamp” making the rounds at night to help the wounded during the Crimean War, Nightingale pioneered the presentation of medical data with statistical graphics and using scientific methodologies. By using statistics, she contributed greatly to improving patients’ health, campaigning for policy reforms and turning medical care into a specialized profession.
Not only does Nightingale embody the scientific aspect of nursing and the art of healthcare, her achievements also illustrate the importance of public affairs and political participation in the development of the nursing profession.
On Oct. 17, 2016, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health in the UK published a report on how enhancing professional nursing globally and empowering nurses will have a threefold impact: improving health, promoting gender equality and supporting economic growth.
In her inaugural address, Tsai spoke not only of the unprecedented challenges Taiwan is facing, but also of the unparalleled opportunities because the public has been well-prepared. She said that as we develop our industries, the government must also “take on more responsibilities to reduce the burden on the people and mitigate issues in society.”
To develop a health, disease prevention and social safety net, Taiwan’s frontline social workers and 280,000 nurses and healthcare workers are ready to devote themselves to improving the nation.
Despite the severe gender imbalance in the Cabinet, the government should enhance the nursing and healthcare sectors. The investment will not only improve health, promote gender equality and support economic growth, but it will also be an essential strategy in the pursuit of universal health coverage and the goal of health for all, as proposed by the WHO.
While the story of Taiwan belongs to everyone in the nation, it also relies on the effort of every Taiwanese.
Chen Ching-min is a professor at National Cheng Kung University’s Department of Nursing.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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