Sunday, June 24, 2007

Taiwan’s participation in the WHO will make a contribution to the global health system

By incorporating Taiwan into the WHO, Taiwan can provide more resources in making a contribution to the overall global health works.

Taiwan’s entry into the World Health Organization (WHO) is compatible with the global trend from a legal, rational and health perspective. It is because the WHO constitution stresses the importance of universal health as basic human rights. Under this principle, many non-sovereign states and groups have either become members or observer members of the WHO, including the Vatican, PLO, Cook Island and others.

Furthermore, with the outbreak of SARS in 2003, the WHO in 2005 amended the International Health Regulations (IHR), for the purpose of disease prevention and public health affairs, in executing the principle of universal application. This guideline provides the means for Taiwan to participate in the activities designated under the new rule.

Understandably, Taiwan should not become a loophole in the global prevention of disease outbreak. Taiwan is situated in the midpoint of the Asia-Pacific, serving as a relay center for several destinations. Thus, Taiwan is vulnerable to the Avian Flue that is present in China and Southeast Asian nations. Since disease transcends national boundary, precautionary measures should not be limited to certain nations.

The globally renowned medical journal the Lancet, explicitly points to the absurdity that Taiwan, due to political reasons, is barred from the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), even though an integrated global disease preventive system is critical in combating the Avian Flu, and Taiwan is also a transport route for many heroine smuggling activities, highlighting the importance of a multi-national organization in combating these actions. However, till today, no such mechanism has been initiated.

Rationally speaking, Taiwan enjoys superiority in the health domain, including health facilities and trained medical personnel. The British magazine, “The Economist,” in 2000, rated Taiwan as 2nd healthiest nation. Similarly, in 2002, the WHO released a global health report, placing Taiwan citizens’ overall health condition 6th best in the world and 2nd in Asia. Besides, Taiwan utilizes its strength in giving back to the international community in realizing the universal health principle. Recently, Taiwan has been very active in Africa and the South Pacific in providing health aids in these regions. Taiwan’s government and the NGOs, throughout past decade, spent and donated over US $300 million dollars in conducting humanitarian aids and providing medical relief to over 90 nations.

Taiwan’s strategy can be separated into short and long term perspectives. The short term strategies include: 1) Taiwan should aspire for meaningful participation and systemically participate in global activities including GORAN, 2) Taiwan can contest the legitimacy of the WHO secretariat office and China secretly signing a MOU, and ask the WHO to publicly release such document and free Taiwan from any unreasonable constraints, 3) Ask the WHO to explain the reason why non-sovereign states and groups can enter into the WHO, 4) Remind the global community that it should be not be intimidated by China into making any decision that might create a health risk for itself, and 5) Domestically, Taiwan should establish a means in system in allocating resources for medical relief abroad.

As for the long term strategies, 1) Taiwan needs to strengthen domestic and international’s understandings of Taiwan’s desire to participate in the WHO, 2) Continue to conduct opinion polls regarding the questions of using the name “Taiwan” in joining the WHO or the United Nations (UN) so as to establish a foundation of support, 3)Taiwan should develop an international health awareness and a cooperative center in preparing experts in global health endeavors, and 4) Develop track two channels in employing domestic scholars, think tanks, NGOs and other groups in engaging in global health activities and cooperation.

In facing adverse diplomatic realm, the government must recognize the importance of global health cooperation as a means in conducting diplomatic works and exporting Taiwan’s influence abroad, more than being concerned with the number of official diplomatic ties that Taiwan currently has. Taiwan should continue to engage with global powers, while collaborating with smaller states through practical mechanisms.

In taking advantage of Taiwan’s superiority in the health realm, Taiwan can make its presence known in the international arena. Similarly, Taiwan needs to raise awareness domestically of the importance of humanitarian spirits as a legitimate cause for the international community to support Taiwan’s bid in the global health system. This will not only consolidate Taiwan’s ties with its diplomatic allies, but also expands its relationship with new friends, which will assist Taiwan’s case for joining the WHO.

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