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WHO membership: the plight of Taiwan
  1. T Duffy
  1. International relations specialist; tm.duffyulster.ac.uk

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    I would like to raise a pressing issue relating to the World Health Organization (WHO) which should (I believe) concern the medical profession throughout the UK. The WHO Charter advocates the provision of health to all—as a human right. It is therefore to be regretted that these Charter obligations have not been exercised with respect to Taiwan whose 23 million citizens still cannot benefit from its protection. This democratic country which is a beacon of human rights in Asia, is still excluded from the WHO. It is expected that in 2005 the island will again try for admission as an observer—the only status currently open to it since the People’s Republic of China has opposed Taiwan’s membership. Indeed Taiwan has already embarked on a new policy of “health diplomacy” in which the considerable Taiwanese contribution to global health has been highlighted.

    It is certainly to be hoped that Taiwan’s bid will make the agenda of the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva in 2005. I believe that the UK healthcare sector should be more vigorous in voicing its support for fair play on issues of this sort. Taiwan’s case has the backing of many prestigious international medical bodies such as the World Medical Association. It also has considerable worldwide political support. Indeed the European Parliament recently passed a resolution urging its member states to endorse the island’s participation in the WHO. Professor Vivienne Nathanson, of the British Medical Association, has argued that it is “desirable for the medical profession in Taiwan to enjoy the advantages offered by links with the WHO, and we should therefore certainly support its application for observer status”.1 Likewise, prominent parliamentarians such as Tom Cox MP, of the all-party British-Taiwanese group in the House of Commons, have strongly condemned Taiwan’s exclusion.

    The events of 11 September 2001 and the spectre of potential bioterrorism which followed in its wake, have highlighted the need for global cooperation on health matters. Yet Taiwan, which has contributed so much to medical assistance abroad, still remains excluded from the protection afforded by the WHO. This is a medical tragedy which surely should not be constrained by political considerations. Taiwan is willing to observe at the WHO as a “health entity”—thus somewhat nullifying the politics of the issue. It is clear that Taiwan’s citizens both need the WHO and at the same time, have much to contribute to it. The Taiwan issue did not make the WHA’s agenda this year, despite a vigorous campaign mounted by many of its members. Politically, they simply could not outnumber the countries being lobbied by officials of the People’s Republic of China. Ethically, and morally (however) Taiwan has the spirit of human rights on its side. The British medical profession, with its internationally respected reputation, should certainly lend its support to this pressing issue.

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