Health for All, Taiwan’s Just Cause to WHA

  • 2023-05-26
  • Andrew H.C. Lee, Representative Taipei Mission in the Republic of Latvia

The 76th World Health Assembly (WHA76) is taking place from 21 to 30 May in Geneva this year. As the global economy slowly recovers in the post-era of COVID-19 pandemic, the world is gradually resuming its cross-border exchanges with more and more people traveling abroad. Against this backdrop and the lessons learned during COVID-19 period, nothing is more urgent and compelling than the global community working together to build up a seamless health net against potential communicable and infectious diseases.

Taiwan strives for participation in WHO regardless of China’s intimidation

During the past few years, WHO has not given up exerting political considerations and continues to use unjustifiable pretext to deprive Taiwan’s 23.5 million people of their fundamental right to health by restricting its direct contact and communication with WHO and its participation in related activities, meetings and mechanisms, which as a result, leads to potential risks to global public health. It also undermines WHO’s spirit and efforts to make global health architecture more resilient, and hinders health emergency prevention, preparedness, and response. 

There is no doubt that China is the main cause for Taiwan’s exclusion from WHO, WHA and the other international organizations in all areas. 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.

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’s prompt response against COVID-19 and providing humanitarian assistance to the international community  

Taiwan’s experience in combating communicable diseases, such as SARS and H1N1, has fostered innovative approaches that bolster its public health care system and well-trained healthcare personnel. Over the past few decades, Taiwan has bolstered its health care and public health system in line with WHO’s recommendations. This includes enhancing primary and oral health care, as well as combating communicable and noncommunicable diseases.

At the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, Taiwan immediately implemented advance deployment and rapid response mechanisms, established a cross-sectoral system to prevent and contain the pandemic at a time when vaccines and antiviral drugs were unavailable. When compared with the 38 Organizations for Economic Co-operation and Development member states and Singapore, Taiwan ranks sixth-lowest in COVID-19 mortality and case-fatality rates. Taiwan also ranks fourth-highest for coverage rates of at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose and third-highest in terms of vaccine boosters administered.

Taiwan is also a responsible global partner willing to help wherever there is a need. In response to Russia’s aggression of Ukraine, the people and government of Taiwan have donated more than US$ 41 million and some 700 tons of medical and humanitarian relief supplies to Ukraine and Central and Eastern European countries. Taiwan also made a donation over US$40 million along with other humanitarian and medical aids to Turkey as part of international rescue operation and reconstruction after the devastating earthquake in early February.

Unprecedented supports from like-minded countries to Taiwan’s participation in WHO

Taiwan is a highly capable, engaged, and responsible member of the global health community, and it has been invited to participate as an observer in WHA meetings between 2008 to 2016.  Taiwan and its distinct capabilities and approaches– including its significant public health expertise, democratic governance, resilience to COVID-19, and robust economy – offer considerable value to inform the WHA’s deliberations. 

We are extremely grateful that our valuable contribution and the importance of Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHA has been widely recognized and supported by the governments, parliaments, local assemblies of like-minded and democratic countries, as well as prominent international professional organizations representing medical communities worldwide in the past few years. It is worth mentioning that this year, Taiwan’s aspiration has received endorsement from over 6,000 key politicians, parliamentarians, opinion leaders of more than 70 countries and the European Union. Under the lead of Formosa Club, a joint letter addressed to WHO Director-General was cosigned by 926 parliamentarians from the European Parliament, parliaments of 28 European countries and Canada, supporting Taiwan’s bid at the 76th WHA.  Like- minded countries such as Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Japan, US and UK spoke up for Taiwan in the past few days during the session. We are especially grateful that Estonian Minister of Health, Riina Sikkut, for the first time called for Taiwan's inclusion in WHO during the General Discussion of WHA, while Latvian Minister for Health Līga Meņģelsone stated that true inclusiveness is vital if we wish to achieve the triple billion targets of WHO.

Taiwan should be invited to all WHO meetings, mechanisms, and activities

Taiwan is not only an integral partner of the global public health network, but also a key player in international trade and global supply chains. Taiwan’s participation in WHO and WHA is a pragmatic issue—not a political one. It is not acceptable that the international community turns a blind eye to the loophole of the world’s health body and let China exercise its political interference to the international institutions and infringe the values of public health enshrined in the WHO Constitution .

Including Taiwan to the WHA and to all WHO meetings, mechanisms, and activities means bolstering global efforts to safeguard public health for all. The fight against emerging communicable diseases requires joint effort and the sharing of genetic sequencing data. All stakeholders, including Taiwan, must be involved in the global information-sharing network to improve pandemic preparedness and response. We urge WHO to include Taiwan in all health emergency-related meetings and mechanisms, such as the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence and the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System.

Viruses transcend borders. In the face of shared global health threats, Taiwan stands firm in its commitment to upholding the principles of professionalism, pragmatism, and making contributions. Taiwan hopes to engage with the global health security network. The international community should work together in a collective response. Creating a seamless global health net is the only way to achieve the ultimate goal of Health for All.

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. Taiwan also urges its diplomatic allies and like-minded partners to continue to support Taiwan’s participation in WHO and the global health network, enabling it to contribute even more in the postpandemic era, and ensuring that no one is left behind.