Sunday, May 6, 2007

Gambia: Take the Politics Out of Health - Admit Taiwan Into the WHO

The Daily Observer (Banjul)

27 April 2007

For a decade now Taiwan was been trying to gain membership to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

But each bid to join has been rejected so far, because of China's hostility to Taiwan's membership. And the situation is not helped when most countries operate a 'one China' policy, and refuse to recognise Taiwan in its own right. So where we should have had a concerted pressure on both China and the WHO, we have instead only a handful of nations well-disposed towards Taiwan's cause.

It is perhaps understandable, though deplorable, why countries will side with China to oppose Taiwan's membership-- they have their political self-interests--but when the WHO colludes in this politicisation of health, then we should all speak out against this outrage to institutional propriety.

The WHO constitution commits that institution to the following pledge: 'the attainment by all peoples the highest level of health'. How the exclusion of Taiwan squares with this constitutional commitment is a puzzle only the WHO can solve. It seems quite clear to us that when it comes to health matters, political considerations should stand much further back: when diseases and epidemics break, they will not consult us on the legal niceties of our political borders. Besides, it is quite obvious to everyone that Taiwan is a de facto sovereign country, anyway.

This sovereignty issue is something that the Taiwanese have been desperate to underplay, hence in their membership bid for 2007, they sought only observer status in the World Health Assembly (WHA), rather than full membership of WHO. The WHO constitution permits the invitation of a 'variety of entities, including non-member states, international organizations, national organizations, and non-governmental organizations, to participate in the activities of the WHO'. And some of these entities can be given observer status in the WHA.

Taiwan's bid for membership is not so much for what they can gain, but far what they can give, as well. In 2005 Taiwan helped Vietnam with 600,000 doses of Tamiflu during an epidemic break; and many other countries, including Burkina Faso, Malawi, Chad, and others, have been helped by Taiwan, especially in the fight against avian flu. Only a concerted effort can contain an epidemic outbreak, therefore the WHO cannot exclude Taiwan from its network of preventative measures. Countries where more H5N1 cases in humans have been recorded, are proximate to Taiwan, making the latter extremely important in any prevention strategy.

Globalisation, in the sphere of public health, means interdependence. The easy availability of air travel also means frequent interactions between peoples. an epidemy could quickly turn pandemic , if we do not have an effective coordination. We need to share scientific information, and coordinate our crisis response structures. Taiwan cannot be left out, because there can be no gaps in the world's prevention network. Let's take the politics out of health, and insist that Taiwan be admitted.


Melissa said...

Taiwan should be able to enter this organization. China is being controlling and unfair, trying to use this petty tactics to exclude Taiwan from organizations that could help the country. In essence, China will do anything it can that is harmful to Taiwan without appearing in the fault.

Anonymous said...

I support Taiwan's accession into the WHO. Not for the sake of the Taiwanese only, but for ourselves, as well.