April 15, 2020
Following the publication of a large advertisement in the New York Times calling for Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Organization, which a group of Taiwan nationals had submitted of their own accord, the WHO Secretariat issued a 13-point statement on April 15 in response to media inquiries. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs commends WHO for beginning to acknowledge Taiwan’s existence and showing willingness to publicly discuss the issue of Taiwan’s participation in the organization.
However, WHO has so far been unable to resist inappropriate political pressure from the Chinese government. It has failed to uphold the principles of professionalism and neutrality and arrange for Taiwan’s comprehensive and unimpeded participation. Even more notably, in its reports on the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, WHO has continued to wrongly list Taiwan as part of China. WHO thus still has significant steps to make before Taiwan can comprehensively participate in its meetings, mechanisms, and activities.
MOFA points out that despite public statements earlier this year by Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, that Taiwan had been fully engaged and fully aware of all the developments on COVID-19, Taiwan’s participation remains extremely limited. Taiwan is not only prevented from obtaining firsthand information concerning the disease in a timely manner, but also faces hurdles in sharing its Taiwan Model on epidemic prevention with other countries.
MOFA stresses that Taiwan, which boasts a complete public health system and has achieved considerable success in preventing and containing the COVID-19 outbreak, is an indispensable partner in realizing the WHO goal of Health for All. Due to political factors, however, Taiwan has not been invited to attend the World Health Assembly since 2017. From 2009 to 2019, Taiwan applied to take part in 187 WHO technical meetings. It only received invitations to 57 of these, meaning that 70 percent of applications were rejected. WHO takes a long time processing Taiwan’s applications, and often does not even provide a reason when rejecting applications.
Geographically, Taiwan falls under the WHO’s Regional Office for the Western Pacific (WPRO). But the WPRO has consistently refused to contact Taiwan, and has never provided any regional public health information to Taiwan. Even though Taiwanese experts can take part in the clinical management and infection control networks related to epidemic prevention, WHO has not invited Taiwan to take part in its laboratory network. And even though WHO has included one Taiwanese expert in the International Health Regulations Expert Roster, it never invited the expert to attend related meetings. This is most clearly reflected in its current handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, owing to political considerations, WHO cannot certify vaccines produced by Taiwan, affecting Taiwan’s research and development endeavors and also creating obstacles for Taiwan to share vaccines with countries that need them. These facts show that Taiwan’s inability to participate in WHO not only jeopardizes the right to health of the 23 million people of Taiwan, but also disadvantages people from other countries that could benefit from Taiwan’s assistance and experience.
MOFA reiterates that Taiwan is willing and able to participate in and contribute to any effort aimed at elevating health standards for all mankind. Taiwan is already taking concrete actions, such as donating medical supplies and sharing its epidemic prevention experience, to assist other countries in halting the spread of COVID-19. Taiwan has thus demonstrated to the international community that “Taiwan can help, and Taiwan is helping”.
As the most important international organization overseeing global public health development and safeguarding health rights, WHO should maintain a position of professionalism and neutrality and allow for the participation of all relevant stakeholders, including Taiwan. WHO should also recognize that Taiwan is not governed by China and possesses an independent and comprehensive medical and public health system. Only the democratically elected government of Taiwan can represent the Taiwanese people.
MOFA once again urges WHO to engage in direct communication with the Taiwan government as soon as possible, invite Taiwan to attend this year’s WHA as an observer, and make appropriate and feasible arrangements facilitating Taiwan’s comprehensive participation in all WHO meetings, mechanisms, and activities, including those concerning epidemic prevention and containment. (E)