May 20, 2008

Taiwan: Another Poorly Judged WHO Rebuff

Sample ImageDespite contributions made to international health and disease containment, Taiwan has again had its invitation for observer status rejected on political grounds.

Below is an article reported by Stephanie Nebehay and Jonathan Lynn with editing by David Fogarty and published by Reuters:

The World Health Organisation's (WHO) assembly again rejected Taiwan's bid for observer status on Monday [19 May 2008], declaring that mainland China had responsibility for health issues affecting the island's 23 million people.

The decision, taken on the opening day of the WHO's six-day annual meeting, was the 12th year in a row that the United Nations agency had rebuffed Taiwan's campaign.

Taiwan, a self-governing island that China regards as a breakaway province, has said its exclusion from the 193-member state agency undermines international efforts to fight diseases such as bird flu.

Gambia's delegate called on the assembly to invite Taiwan to participate as an observer.

"The organisation's continued refusal to have direct dealings with the Taiwan health authorities will not only damage the health rights of the people in Taiwan but may also lead to a gap in the global health system," he said.

Beijing had transmitted only 16 of the 232 WHO communications on health events to Taiwan authorities in the past year, according to Gambia.

But China's Health Minister Chen Zhu, stressing links with the island, said current arrangements fully satisfied the medical and health needs of China's "inseparable flesh brothers and sisters" in Taiwan.

The U.S. delegation, led by Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, issued a statement saying it had long supported observer status for Taiwan in the assembly.

A proposal to drop the agenda item calling on Taiwan to be given observer status was adopted without a vote as part of a behind-the-scenes deal to give the issue an airing without devoting too much time to it.

"The reason that no one objected is that we all know what the outcome is," said one diplomat. The assembly has a built-in majority against Taiwan, which draws support only from a couple of dozen small countries mainly in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, plus the United States.

Taiwan is a member of the 152-nation World Trade Organisation but is excluded from most other international bodies because of Beijing's one-China policy.