When the WHA convenes, Taiwan deserves a place at the table

  • Date: 2017-06-01

I. Background

Bowing to the political demands of a single member state, and ignoring the principles enshrined in its own Constitution and appeals from the international community, the World Health Organization (WHO) failed to invite Taiwan to this year’s World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Switzerland on May 22-31.

The Taiwan government expressed its displeasure with the WHO’s decision, calling it extremely regrettable, and said that in spite of the WHO’s decision, Taiwan remains determined to participate in and contribute to the international community. To protect Taiwan citizens’ right to health, the government will thus continue its efforts to enhance cooperation with health-related organizations in countries around the world.

II. The WHA needs Taiwan, and Taiwan has the right to participate

A. The WHO constitution makes health a fundamental right of every human being, and as a global body concerned with the health of all humanity, there is no justification for the WHO to exclude Taiwanese, who have the same right to health as everyone else.

As a professional and international organization, the WHO should serve the health and well-being of humankind without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition in accordance with its own constitution.

The universal value of the right to health is a core tenet in the WHO constitution, and on that basis alone the WHO should invite Taiwan to participate in the WHA.

B. The task of preventing epidemics knows no national boundaries, and over the past few years, diseases have been carried ever further and faster on the wings of globalization and convenient mass transportation. It is therefore dangerous—for Taiwanese and other global citizens—when political factors prevent epidemic prevention efforts from crossing national boundaries. It is also irresponsible.

Every WHA participant is an essential link in the global health and epidemic prevention system, while non-participants like Taiwan create gaps in that system that put the people of Taiwan, and the system as a whole, at risk.

C. Taiwan can make a substantive contribution to global public health. As a member of the global village and an active participant in global affairs, Taiwan has long been devoted to promoting health, and research to control emerging infectious diseases, making numerous contributions to protecting the health of people worldwide.

III. The government's response to the WHA situation

The Taiwan government would first like to thank like-minded countries such as the United States, Canada, Japan, and countries in Europe, our diplomatic allies, friendly countries and domestic and foreign organizations for supporting Taiwan. The government has responded to this situation as follows:

A. Held bilateral talks with member states and international organizations:
Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung led the WHA action team to Geneva to explain to the international community how important it is that Taiwan be included in the global health security system. The group also held bilateral talks with international organizations from various countries and conducted professional forums on health insurance and epidemic prevention, hoping to gain the fundamental right to health for all Taiwanese and highlight the nation’s expertise in medical care and public health. The government will also continue to strengthen bilateral cooperation with health authorities in various countries and professional international medical and health organizations to protect the public’s right to health.

B. Requested that allies petition the WHO:
Although Taiwan was not invited to attend the 70th WHA this year, the nation has an obligation—and the right—to participate in discussions concerning global health and epidemic prevention. To show that the Taiwan government is serious about global health cooperation, and determined to see that epidemic prevention efforts are not constrained by national borders, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already requested that Taiwan’s diplomatic allies petition the WHO, urging the organization to grant Taiwan observer status to attend the WHA.

IV. Taiwan government appeals

A. To the WHO:
The WHO is dedicated to the health and well-being of all peoples, and as a member of the international community, the people of Taiwan have the right to participate in WHA-related activities. The nation should also continue to contribute to international health and epidemic prevention, instead of becoming a gap in the global disease prevention system. Any act that excludes or suppresses Taiwan violates the WHO’s founding principles, discriminates against the people of Taiwan, and has a negative—and unpredictable—impact on international health and epidemic prevention efforts.

B. To mainland China:
Much effort has been expended to develop positive cross-strait interactions and goodwill. Do not undermine those gains by conflating the protection of human health with politics, or ignoring the feelings and dignity of the people of Taiwan.

Differences can only be resolved through communication and dialogue, and refraining from negative behavior is the only way to protect the rights and well-being of people on both sides of the strait, while furthering the development of positive cross-strait interaction. And to make a joint contribution to the international community, the two sides need to have cordial relations in the international arena.

V. Conclusion

To protect the right to health of its 23 million people, it is essential that Taiwan participate in the WHA. Disease knows no national borders, and for decades, Taiwanese medical and health personnel have made their mark around the world, never missing an opportunity to participate in global medical, disease prevention, and sanitation efforts. So when it comes to the right to health, Taiwanese should enjoy equal treatment, and the global health and epidemic prevention system can ill afford their exclusion.

As President Tsai Ing-wen has said, when the WHA convenes, Taiwan deserves a place at the table.