Letter to the Editor

May 25, 2024 People's Tonight 70 views

A comprehensive global health network must include Taiwan.

The 77th session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) is scheduled to commence in Geneva, Switzerland from May 27 to June 1, 2024. Over the past few decades, Taiwan has improved its health care and public health system in line with WHO recommendations. These efforts included enhancing primary and oral health care as well as combating communicable and noncommunicable diseases. However, Taiwan has been excluded from the WHA since 2017 due to political pressure from China.

Despite making significant contributions to the world during COVID-19, Taiwan was prevented from drafting and negotiating the WHO Pandemic Agreement and does not have ready access to pandemic-related resources and materials, namely the WHO Pathogen Access and Benefit-Sharing System (PABS), and the Global Pandemic Supply Chain and Logistics Network. To date, WHO has refused to display the contact point information of the Taiwan Centers for Diseases Control on the International Health Regulations (IHR) intranet. As a result, IHR contact points in other countries cannot directly report pandemic information to Taiwan, nor can they receive the important pandemic information Taiwan provides to WHO. This adversely affects pandemic prevention efforts.

Nonetheless, Taiwan seeks robust engagement with the global health security network and collaboration with WHO to strengthen the resilience of the global health system. Both its public and private sectors are committed to sharing the experience and expertise with partner countries, and its closest neighbor, the Philippines is among the beneficiaries. For example, Tzu Chi, whose headquarters is in Hualien, Taiwan, has provided free clinical services in the Philippines since 1995, with its Eye Center at the Santa Mesa district of Manila running as of 2007. The Eye Center has catered to more than 130,000 outpatients and performed more than 15,000 surgeries for the past 17 years. Tzu Chi even has plans to build a new hospital, so that it can treat more patients at a permanent location.

Last October, the Taiwan Root Medical Peace Corps (TRMPC) team, consisting of physicians, surgeons, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, lab experts, and volunteers, provided its 3rd free medical services to Philippine patients in Pagadian City, Zamboanga Del Sur. The Noordhoof Craniofacial Foundation (NCF), in collaboration with Taiwan’s Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, partnered with the Craniofacial Foundation Philippine (NCFPI) and the United Davao Specialists Hospital and Center, Inc. to form a “Medical Mission Team with Love” in last November. The team has provided free reconstructive surgeries for 329 Filipino craniofacial patients since 1999.

This year in 2024, the Taiwan Cardiac Children’s Foundation, sponsored by the Rotary Club, traveled to the Philippines to train local physicians in performing transcatheter pulmonary valve replacement surgeries in May. The team will come again to Manila in June to perform actual surgeries at the Philippine Heart Center (PHC) to improve the local medical standards and provide better care for children with heart disease.

Taiwan remains firmly committed to its professional and pragmatic approach and to playing an active role in global health initiatives. A world without Taiwan is unthinkable, inequitable and unjust. We are appreciative of the support from our international friends. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the United States was strongly encouraging the World Health Organization (WHO) to reinstate an invitation to Taiwan to participate as an observer in the World Health Assembly (WHA). And during recent hearings held by the US Senate and House of Representatives committees on foreign affairs, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink explicitly endorsed Taiwan’s participation in the WHA as an observer.

The inclusion of Taiwan in WHO and the WHA transcends political considerations—it is a practical necessity. WHO should uphold professionalism and neutrality, reject political interference, and invite Taiwan to participate in the WHA as an observer. In the meantime, I call on the Philippine government, its Congress, and its people to support Taiwan’s institutionalized participation in WHO meetings and mechanisms. Let bayanihan spirit shine and include Taiwan in the WHO to achieve “Health for all.”

Amb. Wallace Minn-Gan Chow
Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines