Taiwan participation in the World Health Assembly

  • Date: 2016-08-16

I. Background

In 1972 the Republic of China (Taiwan), a founding member of the World Health Organization (WHO), lost its right to representation in that organization. The nation was thus unable to participate in various WHO activities, even though medical care and public health issues are collective global responsibilities that affect equal rights to basic health care and global cooperation in fighting cross-border disease. To safeguard citizens’ basic right to health, Taiwan started campaigning to take part in the WHO back in 1997, and, after years of effort, the WHO included Taiwan in its implementation of the International Health Regulations in 2009. That same year, Taiwan began attending the World Health Assembly (WHA) as an observer.


II. The government’s position

A. According to the WHO Constitution, health is a fundamental right of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition. Based on these universal values, Taiwan would like to participate in WHO activities, and contribute in various areas, and politics should not impact the health of Taiwan’s citizens or restrict their right to full participation in international society.

B. Taiwan’s participation in the WHO not only impacts the right to health of every citizen, but also serves as an indispensable link to world health and disease prevention mechanisms. Instead of leaving a gap in international medical care and disease prevention efforts, Taiwan should have the opportunity to continue deepening its contributions, which is the nation’s responsibility to international society.


III. Taiwan’s participation in the 69th WHA

Acting on the principles of professionalism, pragmatism, and the desire to make a contribution, Minister of Health and Welfare Lin Tzou-yien led the Taiwan delegation to attend the 69th session of the WHA, where he collected up-to-date global medical and health care information, promoted international exchanges and cooperation in the best interest of the health of Taiwan citizens, and publicized Taiwan’s ability and determination to take part in international health affairs. Details of Taiwan’s participation are as follows:

A. Summary of WHA plenary session address:

On May 25, 2016, Lin spoke at the WHA plenary session in his capacity as the nation’s minister of health and welfare. Sharing Taiwan’s accomplishments in the fields of medicine and public health, he said that 99.9 percent of the population is now covered by the national health insurance system, and that the nation’s health indicators such as average life expectancy and infant mortality rate are on a par with members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. He also emphasized that Taiwan has transformed itself into a provider of international assistance, cooperating with the United States over the past year to enhance the ability to fight Ebola, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, dengue fever and Zika outbreaks in Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asian countries. To support the WHA-initiated Global Surgery program, Taiwan also offered training opportunities for 50 seed surgeons from around the world over the next five years.

The minister then called on the WHO and its member states to stand behind Taiwan’s 23 million citizens by supporting the nation’s participation in WHO-related conferences and activities to achieve a common vision of “no one left behind” as enshrined in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

B. Bilateral talks with the U.S., Europe, Japan and international organizations:

During the course of the WHA gathering, the Taiwan delegation actively engaged in multi-lateral professional exchanges and talks with individual countries and international organizations, and held 59 rounds of bilateral talks with the U.S., Japan and European Union nations and important international organizations, the largest number in history.

During the Taiwan-U.S. bilateral talks, Minister Lin and Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell discussed a long list of issues including dengue fever vaccines, global health security guidelines, obesity prevention and non-communicable disease control. During talks between Taiwan and Japan, Minister Lin and Japan’s senior vice-minister of health, labor and welfare exchanged opinions on long-term care and active aging issues.

C. Participation in professional exchanges at technical meetings:

At WHA technical committee meetings, the Taiwan delegation exchanged opinions with other countries on 30 topics, gaining valuable insights into future trends in global health care policy including U.N. sustainable development goals, communicable disease monitoring and preparedness (including the sharing of influenza viruses, vaccine access, and follow-up actions in the wake of the Ebola outbreak), non-communicable disease prevention and control, healthy aging, global health care manpower strategies, counterfeit and substandard medicines, and managing drug shortages. Taiwan’s opportunities to speak on these issues reached an all-time high.


IV. Future efforts to obtain WHA observership

Given its outstanding expertise in the medical and health care fields, Taiwan should play an important role in the international community. Especially in fields where Taiwan is an international leader such as plastic reconstructive microsurgery, craniofacial surgery and organ transplants, the nation also has an important responsibility to spur developments in global medicine and public health. In support of the Global Surgery program jointly initiated by the WHA and the Lancet Commission, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) is planning to organize a global surgery promotion team to cooperate with domestic medical groups in training global seed surgeons.

The MOHW is also planning to join forces with academia and the medical sector to form a WHO advisory group. The group will promote Taiwan’s long-term involvement in various WHO and global health-related activities year-round to enhance the nation’s ability to participate in global medical and health care affairs. It will also promote medical and health care affairs to keep the nation attuned to global health care policy developments, make a contribution to the international community and enhance the overall health and well-being of the Taiwan public.


V. Conclusion

Taiwan’s participation in the WHA is based on the universal human right to health for 23 million people. This speaks to the right to health for all Taiwan citizens, as well as the nation’s indispensible role in global    health and disease prevention mechanisms. By fulfilling its responsibility to the international community and actively participating in global medical and health affairs, Taiwan’s strengths in these areas can raise the nation’s international profile and enhance cooperative international relationships. Going forward, Taiwan will continue to develop even greater medical capabilities and promote medical diplomacy and medical industry exports.