A comprehensive global health network with Taiwan to realize 'All for Health, Health for all'

  • 2024-05-09
  • Andrew H.C. Lee Representative of Taipei Mission in the Republic of Latvia

Beginning May 27, the World Health Organization (WHO) will hold its 77th World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva to discuss global public health priorities. It’s a unique opportunity for delegates and health experts from around the world to address global health challenges and advance health security. And it is more imperative than ever to ponder on Taiwan’s indispensability in preparing for future pandemics and in combating all contagious diseases especially after a hard-learned lesson during COVID-19 pandemic rampantly across the globe.

Taiwan sets an example for global pandemic prevention

Since WHO declared the end of COVID-19 as a global public health emergency in May 2023, a post pandemic economic, social, and political order has come into being. Learning from the COVID-19 experience and developing a coherent global cooperation framework are necessary to prepare for and adequately respond to potential future pandemics. As a global public health stakeholder, Taiwan's exceptional response to and containment of COVID-19 has also been lauded by the international community and it has made significant contributions to the international community by donating masks, PPEs, medical equipment and supplies during COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the past few decades, Taiwan has improved its health care and public health system in line with WHO recommendations. For COVID-19, Taiwan established response measures that harnessed artificial intelligence, big data, and surveillance networks. As a responsible member of the international community, in 2013 and 2017, Taiwan made notification and shared information on H6N1 and H7N9 avian influenza cases as well as virus gene sequences once they were confirmed to help other countries make appropriate preparations. Taiwan was the first country to alert WHO about a possible disease outbreak in China in 2019.

Unprecedented support in 2023 from like-minded countries to Taiwan’s inclusion in WHO

In 2023, Taiwan’s WHO bid received greater international recognition and support that over 10,000 officials, political figures, parliamentarians, and opinion leaders from nearly 100 countries and the European Union spoke up for Taiwan in and outside WHO. Taiwan’s 12 diplomatic allies submitted a proposal item to invite Taiwan to participate in the WHA as an observer. The United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and Luxembourg spoke up for Taiwan. Estonia echoed Taiwan’s appeals in a direct reference to Taiwan at WHA General Discussion, while Latvia showed its support to Taiwan’s bid by emphasizing the goal of inclusiveness, for which we are very grateful.

Taiwan’s exclusion from the WHO mechanism sounds the alarm to global health

Despite Taiwan’s aspiration in the WHO and to the world health system has received an unprecedented endorsement, it was continuously prevented from drafting and negotiating the WHO Pandemic Agreement and does not have ready access to pandemic-related resources including the WHO Pathogen Access and Benefit-Sharing System (PABS). For its part, Taiwan has applied to participate in a number of WHO mechanisms, among them the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) and the Global Digital Health Certification Network (GDHCN), but it has received no response.

The GDHCN is built on regional networks for COVID-19 certificates and may be used as a building block to support digitalized international certificates of vaccination, verification of vaccination certificates, and certification of public health professionals. With Taiwan unable to join the GDHCN, were a new global pandemic to arise, it would mean the vaccination verification burden in many countries would increase, and would create difficulties for Taiwanese working overseas and foreigners living in Taiwan seeking medical treatment or medication.

Taiwan’s very limited participation in WHO meetings and activities due to China’s intervention

China has become much more aggressive with its diplomatic isolation, economic coercion, and military threat against Taiwan, it has persisted in suppressing and blocking Taiwan’s participation in annual WHA. It is especially unfortunate that the WHO has been kidnapped by China’s “hostage diplomacy” and “wolf warrior diplomacy” at the cost of fundamental rights to health of the 23.5 million Taiwanese for decades.

Taiwan was invited to a mere 7 WHO meetings per year on average from 2012 to 2023. As China is becoming more aggressive and provocative toward Taiwan, Beijing has doubled down on further isolating Taiwan diplomatically and blocking Taiwan’s participation in international bodies like the WHO, and other United Nations umbrella organizations. To date, WHO still refuses to display the contact point information of the Taiwan Centers for Diseases Control on the IHR intranet, which has seriously jeopardized the global health net.

US, G7, European Union and European Parliament have recently reiterated their support 

In a press statement on May 1, U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken expresses that “the United States strongly encourages the WHO to reinstate an invitation to Taiwan to participate as an observer at this year’s WHA so the world may once again benefit from Taiwan’s expertise and experience,” and “Taiwan’s continued exclusion from this preeminent global health forum undermines inclusive global public health cooperation and security, which the world demands – and urgently needs. Inviting Taiwan to observe the WHA is a critically important step toward affirming the WHO’s goal of “Health for All.” 

G7 countries foreign minister meeting, held in Italy in mid-April, issued a communiqué once again endorsing Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international organizations and mechanisms, including the WHA and WHO.  At the sixth high-level meeting of the US-EU Dialogue on China and the fifth meeting of the US-EU High-Level Consultations on the Indo-Pacific, held on February 7 and 8, a joint statement was issued to express support for Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international organizations.

Furthermore, the European Parliament (EP) on February 28 voted overwhelmingly to adopt resolutions on annual reports on the implementation of the European Union Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The EP denounced China’s continued blocking of Taiwan’s international participation and called on the European Commission and EU member states to support Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international organizations and mechanisms, such as the World Health Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Global health safety net is incomplete without Taiwan in WHO

The theme for World Health Day 2024 is “My Health, My Right.” In a world of entangled challenges, there is no reasonable justification to exclude Taiwan’s 23.5 million people participation in WHO and its annual Assembly. As enshrined in the WHO Constitution, the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition. Inviting Taiwan to attend the WHA as an observer is the first step towards the fulfillment of the asserted principle and would exemplify the WHO’s commitment to an inclusive approach to international health cooperation and health for all.

Taiwan is a reliable partner, a vibrant democracy, and a force for good in the world. Taiwan is a reliable partner, a vibrant democracy, and a force for good in the world. Taiwan’s distinct capabilities and approaches – including its significant public health expertise, democratic governance, and advanced technology – bring considerable value that would inform the WHA’s deliberations. Taiwan’s isolation from WHA, the preeminent global health forum, is unjustified and undermines inclusive global public health cooperation and security, which the world demands.

Excluding Taiwan from the work of the WHO hampers the efforts of countering infectious disease and prompting public health, and compromises global health and safety. Taiwan once again calls on WHO to maintain a professional and neutral stance, resist inappropriate political interference, invite Taiwan to join WHA as an observer, and include Taiwan in all WHO meetings, mechanisms, and activities.