"The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition." These are noble principles sourced from the Constitution of the World Health Organization.
Taiwan's attendance to the World Health Assembly, the governance body of the WHO, as an observer since 2009, after her long forced-absence due to the interference of international politics, ended abruptly again in 2017.
During the years Taiwan was temporarily re-included into this world health body, she demonstrated a strong inclination to participate in the WHO meetings to share her expertise in disease control and committed to assisting other countries that face health challenges.
As of April this year, just a few weeks before the deadline for submitting participation to the annual WHA meeting, the invitation letter for Taiwan's participation has yet to arrive. Many fear that international politics might once again be playing a part.
In 2017, eleven diplomatic allies of Taiwan strongly urged the WHO to invite Taiwan to participate in the 70th WHA as an observer. The proposal won endorsements from top health officials among major democratic countries such as Australia, Germany, Japan, and the United States. They were concerted in their efforts in support of Taiwan's WHO bid by upholding the principle of universal health right.
Unfortunately, the proposal was rejected after China and its clique in the WHO intervened and cited the United Nation General Assembly Resolution 2758 and WHA Resolution 25.1 as excuses to deny the health right to Taiwan's innocent 23.4 million citizens. As many might be well aware, neither one of the resolutions included a clause prohibiting Taiwan from joining the UN specialized agencies, nor can they be applied to resolve the dispute over sovereignty across the Taiwan Strait.
Clearly, only the government of the Republic of China (Taiwan) can represent its entire citizenry in international organizations and assume responsibility for their health. Also, countries over the world agree that political conditions ought not to be prioritized over the basic right to health. It is regretful that the WHO had buckled to political pressure and continued to ignore Taiwan's longing for participation in the WHA and its related meetings, leaving the health and well-being of Taiwanese people at stake.
In spite of that, the Government of the ROC (Taiwan) until now has repeatedly expressed its strong willingness to participate in the WHA, and calling for international support of Taiwan's annual WHO bid.
As mentioned earlier, Taiwan's exclusion from participating in WHO - the most important international health organization - not only is a clear affront to the stated WHO values, but also amounts to tremendous loss to the global efforts in building a safer and healthier international health system.
Located at the crossroad in East Asia, Taiwan is also vulnerable to risks of infectiousdisease outbreaks. This was extremely true when Taiwan faced deadly SARS and Avian Flu outbreaks in 2003. Simply because Taiwan wasn't a member of the WHO, Taiwan was unable to receive the alert on the profusion of the diseases in a timely manner.
Even worse, the Taiwanese health authorities could not obtain information on how to combat the epidemics from the WHO. This deliberately creates a loophole in the international health system and is detrimental to not only the health rights of people of Taiwan but to those of the whole world.
Over the years, Taiwan has touted its universal healthcare coverage scheme which provides more affordable as well as better quality health services to its citizens. Taiwan was the first country in Asia to implement a national health program which boasts of a coverage rate of 99.9 percent, including enrolling the prison inmates and babies born to foreign residents in Taiwan. The satisfaction rate with the health program stands above 85 percent among respondents in various polls. Taiwan is keen to share this experience with like-minded countries.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the SARS outbreak. Taiwan is back on its feet and has developed an ever stronger disease prevention system in fighting pandemics such as Ebola, MERS, dengue fever, and Zika. Taiwan's medical experts and public health professionals work tirelessly to broaden health and humanitarian aid efforts beyond the border with a total investment of over US$6 billion to the benefit of millions of population in over 80 countries globally.
The World Health Organization needs Taiwan to build a robust global health system, and Taiwan needs the WHO as well. Taiwan's continued participation in the WHO will enable her to share experiences with other countries, to make reporting and acquire disease prevention information promptly, and to play a constructive role in global health protection.
It is time to call for the WHO to adhere to its constitution, and strive to advance the health of all humankind by including Taiwan into this global health agency. And only when the inclusion of Taiwan to the WHO realizes can the global fight against diseases be successfully achieved.