Nine years ago, having garnered tremendous international support, Taiwan was invited by the World Health Organization (WHO) to attend the 62nd WHA (World Health Assembly) as an observer. Since then, Taiwan’s active participation in the WHA and WHO technical meetings has improved disease control both in Taiwan and around the world, as Taiwan is committed to assisting other countries that face health challenges and fulfilling the WHO mandate. Inviting Taiwan to the WHA on an annual basis and in a non-political manner has enabled Taiwan to join the concerted efforts that the WHO and all nations are making to improve disease prevention and global public health.
Taiwan deserves a seat in the WHA
It is therefore regrettable that the government of the Republic of China (Taiwan) has yet to receive an invitation from the WHO Secretariat for the 70th WHA that is due to take place in Geneva, Switzerland, from May 22 to 31 this year. Denying Taiwan meaningful participation in the WHA will not only be abusing the Taiwanese people’s right to health, but also causing a severe breach in the world health system. This goes against the common wishes of the Taiwanese people and many like-minded members of the international community, such as the United States, Japan, Canada, European countries, Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, and other friendly nations, as well as local and international groups.
A very strong case can be made for Taiwan’s professional and pragmatic participation in the WHO and its related mechanisms, meetings, and activities, including the WHA. This is due to Taiwan’s longstanding contributions to public health, disease prevention, and the human right to health in the international community, as well as the healthcare partnerships it has formed with WHO member countries, and its importance as part of the global disease prevention system.
Taiwan’s absence from WHO-related mechanisms, meetings, and activities will cause a serious fissure in the global health system and create significant risks
1. Spread of epidemics
Taiwan administers the Taipei Flight Information Region, which sees over 60 million incoming and outgoing passengers every year. An outbreak of infectious disease, such as MERS, Ebola, or Zika fever, would be amplified by Taiwan’s prominent position in the global transportation network. Moreover, Taiwan is home to important stopover sites for nearly 1.25 million migratory birds that fly over the island each year as they migrate from mainland China, Japan, and South Korea to Southeast Asia and Pacific Island nations, meaning the risk of avian influenza outbreaks is considerable.
2. Food safety
In any country, manufactured food products use ingredients from around the world and, as the WHO noted in 2015, over two million people die annually from contaminated food or drinking water. Given that Taiwan is the world’s 17th largest exporter and 18th largest importer in 2015, global food safety will be difficult to control if Taiwan is excluded.
Taiwan is doing its best to leave no one behind
1. The international society in general
Taiwan has invested over US$6 billion in international medical and humanitarian aid efforts that have benefited millions of people directly or indirectly in over 80 countries since 1996. As a hub for advanced medical technology and a major international aid donor, Taiwan has also become a catalyst for millions of medical success stories, making the world a healthier and safer place. An online photography exhibition (in both Mandarin and English) called “Leave No One Behind: World Health Security Needs Taiwan, Taiwan Needs the WHO” (http://www.leavenoonebehind.com.tw), and a clip (in English), called “Second Chance” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeJxj4vhwUw), have been recently launched by the ROC government to showcase Taiwan's contributions to five areas of international health over many decades. These areas are safeguarding global health, combating major diseases, building medical capacity, providing humanitarian medical aid, and the WHO.
2. Mongolia in particular
Since 2004, Taiwanese hospitals have assisted in training some 480 doctors and medical personnel from Mongolia, and Taiwan has long been a donor of medical equipment to the country. For example, since the winter of last year, Taiwan has given a total of 150 hospital beds to the provincial hospitals of Bayan-Olgii, Bulgan, Uvurkhangai, and Khentii, and to the First Central Hospital of Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar, as well as six dialysis machines to the provincial hospitals of Uvs, Khovd, and Zavkhan (two machines for each province), and set up a medical point to provide nomadic herders in a remote area of Zavkhan province with primary healthcare services.
In addition, hundreds of Taiwanese students and volunteer workers, doctors, and nurses have visited Mongolia to provide free services to underprivileged groups. Since its establishment in Ulaanbaatar in 2004, the Mongolia Branch Office of the Taiwan Fund for Children and Families has provided monthly payments and material aid to over 16,000 Mongolian children, more than 6,000 of whom are now living successfully on their own. There are also medical equipment providers and medicine manufacturers in Taiwan ready and willing to work with the medical and healthcare communities in Mongolia.
Taiwan’s rightful place in the WHA
Taiwan’s participation in the WHO over the past eight years has enabled the country to share its experience with other countries, to report and receive disease prevention information promptly, and to better cooperate on and contribute to effective solutions for medical and healthcare issues worldwide. Taiwan’s continued participation in the WHA and other WHO-related mechanisms, meetings, and activities conforms to the universal values of human rights, with the right to health of all mankind enshrined in the WHO Charter, and will only strengthen the international community’s efforts to achieve Goal 3 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, to ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all, at all ages.
The ROC government calls on the WHO to accept that there is broad support in the international community for Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the 70th WHA, and plans to dispatch a delegation led by Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung to Geneva, where it hopes to engage directly with other national delegations and international medical groups through WHA participation, bilateral meetings, and side meetings and activities. The aim, as always, is to exchange views on international health issues and trends, so as to help effectively safeguard the Taiwanese people’s right to health, and the security of the global health system in general.
Taipei Trade and Economic
Representative Office in Ulaanbaatar