March 30, 2020
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan) took notice when the World Health Organization Secretariat issued a statement on March 29 recognizing the success of Taiwan’s epidemic prevention and containment measures and acknowledged the importance of Taiwan in the global fight against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). However, MOFA regrets that the WHO statement fails to present the full facts. Thus, MOFA wishes to make the following clarifications:
It is the shared aspiration of the people of Taiwan to participate in WHO, and the Taiwan government will continue to strive to achieve this important objective. Over the past three years, Taiwan has constantly sought to be invited again to attend the WHA as an observer— all toward the ultimate goals of protecting the health rights of Taiwan’s 23 million people and contributing more to global health and cooperation against infectious disease. Taiwan recognizes that amid international appeals for Taiwan’s participation, the WHO Secretariat has made a number of improvements. However, the WHO statement on the question of Taiwan’s participation misrepresents the facts. Taiwan calls on the WHO Secretariat to continue to reevaluate the unfair restrictions it has imposed on Taiwan based on political considerations.
(1) Taiwan and WHO have established contact points under the International Health Regulations. While Taiwan’s IHR Contact Point has a password-protected account allowing it to glean information from the IHR’s Event Information Site, the reality is that Taiwan unilaterally provides information to WHO via this conduit, information that is not then shared by WHO with other members. With regard to COVID-19, Taiwan has from the very start shared information promptly with the WHO Focal Point concerning cases in Taiwan and the prevention and border quarantine measures it has taken to prevent spread of the disease. The WHO Secretariat has yet to include the information Taiwan has provided on the EIS website, nor has it included it in WHO’s daily Situation Reports. The health agencies of other nations thus cannot get information through WHO data on the epidemic in Taiwan, or our prevention policies or border quarantine measures. The WHO claimed in its March 29 statement that it “is taking lessons learned from all areas, including Taiwanese health authorities, to share best practices globally” is, therefore, not in accord with the facts.
(2) Although Taiwan does participate in the Training Programs in Epidemiology and Public Health Interventions Network (TEPHINET) , which is not a WHO program, mentioned in the statement, Taiwan is still unable to participate in WHO’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN). Taiwan can obtain information indirectly through TEPHINET, but has no access to timely information through GOARN. This cannot be represented as Taiwan’s participating in GOARN, nor does it give WHO grounds to claim it is cooperating with Taiwan.
(3) In February, Taiwan actively approached WHO to arrange the participation of Taiwanese experts in WHO’s Global Research and Innovation Forum in Geneva. WHO did ultimately agree to allow two Taiwanese experts to attend the event, but only via videoconferencing. As a result, the experts were unable to directly interact with other countries’ representatives and engage in exchanges about the development of the COVID-19 outbreak, and disease prevention and research. They were also unable to share Taiwan’s experience on the frontline of the pandemic, or talk to potential sponsors about cooperating on vaccine and drug R&D opportunities.
From 2009 to 2019, Taiwan applied to attend 187 WHO technical meetings, but was invited to only 57, for a very high rejection rate of 70 percent.
This indicates that when handling Taiwan’s participation in its technical meetings, WHO continues to restrict Taiwan for political reasons.
Recent international discourse has seen a growing wave of support for Taiwan’s inclusion in WHO among Taiwan’s diplomatic allies and like-minded nations. Taiwan’s successful efforts to keep COVID-19 in check have earned praise and commendation from the international community, and recognition through more than 450 news reports in over 40 countries. Our government wholeheartedly thanks the international community for its staunch support. As the entire world struggles together to combat the continued spread of the epidemic, Taiwan once again calls on the WHO Secretariat to cast aside political considerations, abide by the WHO Charter’s call to work for the highest attainable standard of human health, and bring Taiwan fully into its meetings, mechanisms, and activities, particularly those concerning COVID-19. Taiwan is willing and able to continue working with bilateral and multilateral partners—including WHO—to defend global health and stop the continued spread of this epidemic. (E)