Taiwan Deserves Its Own Voice in World Health Organization. (Fair Comment)

Article excerpt

When the ruling body of the World Health Organization (WHO) convened its annual meeting in Geneva on May 13, one important member of the international community was missing. The Republic of China on Taiwan--home to 23 million people, a genuine democracy and the United States' eighth-largest trading partner--was unable to participate, even as an observer. But don't blame Taiwan.

Taiwan wants to participate in the WHO but cannot for reasons completely unrelated to the WHO's self-avowed mission to promote "health for all." Taiwan's absence only can be explained by the opposition of one WHO member that apparently has yet to realize the Cold War is over--the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Armed with a spurious claim to sovereignty over Taiwan, the PRC insists that the WHO exclude Taiwan when even the PLO and far-flung territories such as Niue and Tokelau can get in the WHO door. This injustice harms not only Taiwan, but also the international community.

As the WHO executive board determined in January 2001, "the globalization of infectious diseases is such that an outbreak in one country is potentially a threat to the whole world. The need for international cooperation on epidemic alert and response is greater today than ever before. Simply stated, diseases do not recognize political boundaries and, thanks to modern forms of transportation, an epidemic originating in Canton, China, can spread to Taipei and on to New York City in less than 24 hours."

Just three years ago, a deadly outbreak of enterovirus struck Taiwan, infecting more than 1.8 million people, hospitalizing 400, killing 80 and resulting in more than $1 billion in economic losses. If Taiwan had had timely access to WHO resources, the outbreak probably could have been contained more quickly or prevented altogether.

The Bush administration deserves credit for realizing the threat posed by Taiwan's unwarranted exclusion from the WHO and for moving quickly toward a policy of support for Taiwan's inclusion. In May 2001, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson said, "I support Taiwan playing a role in the World Health Organization, being able to attend meetings and being able to use their expertise to advance their health concerns in Taiwan." During the last year, the U.S. position on Taiwan's participation in the WHO has further solidified and, on April 4, President George W. …