Taiwan’s Denial of a Seat at WHO Has Become Not Just a Political Concern, But a Global One

May 25, 2020 Updated: May 26, 2020

Commentary

In 1988, I lived in the Taipei International Youth Activity Center, studied Mandarin at Guoyu Ribao, and taught English at a bushiban “cram school,” the California Language Academy.

It was a fantastic life-changing time for me, and I learned about Taiwan and even myself, navigating Taipei’s bus system and finding jobs to support myself, really for the first time in my life.

Over the past few decades, Taiwan hasn’t just been an economic success, but a democratic success as well. Taiwan’s achievements in these and other areas have borne fruit, most recently in its successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are happy to say that through more than 20 years of strong health partnerships with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the United States and Taiwan have been able to tackle a wide range of issues, including the SARS outbreak response, cancer research, dengue vaccine research, and even regional trainings for Zika diagnostic tools.

Initially, during the COVID-19 crisis, Taiwan was judged by many to be one of the most at-risk populations, given its proximity to and significant links with mainland China and the city of Wuhan itself. However, Taiwan’s population of 23 million has only about 440 confirmed cases to date, having instituted controls, testing, and contact tracing in a targeted manner that seems to have almost eliminated the possibility of community spread.

Yet Taiwan is denied any representation at the World Health Organization (WHO), even though it’s proven to be a capable, willing, and responsible stakeholder in global health.

Even though Taiwan has been denied participation at the World Health Assembly (WHA), the annual meeting of WHO members, Taiwan has been quite active in implementing the International Health Regulations (IHR), including frequent and transparent information-sharing with the United States and other countries.

For example, Taiwan commissioned Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security to evaluate progress on implementing the IHRs by undergoing a third-party Joint External Evaluation, showing its ongoing commitment to the health and safety of its people, and being a trusted partner in international health responses. The report found that Taiwan had met most goals of the IHRs and had strengths in areas such as disease surveillance, development of national policy, and antimicrobial stewardship.

In a video conference with the Center for Strategic and International Studies this month, I spoke with Vice Premier Chen Chi-mai about the COVID-19 response. He attributes Taiwan’s success to the lessons learned from the 2003 SARS outbreak there. Because of the Chinese government’s lack of transparency and its insistence on keeping Taiwan from participating as an observer at the WHA, Taiwan had to take decisive action on its own.

As part of the Taiwan model, Chen highlighted the three pillars of Taiwan’s response: transparency, technology, and teamwork.

All communities with a stake in global health should be able to contribute and benefit from the WHO’s efforts. This is especially true for Taiwan, who neither benefits from China’s reports nor receives any independent information from the WHO. As HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Chen both agreed during a meeting in April, Taiwan should be able to contribute to and benefit from WHO’s efforts as a global health leader.

Nobody should be left out of the international efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 300,000 people and devastated the global economy. We should involve all local, state, provincial, and national governments, particularly ones that have a proven track record of success.

It’s a shame the WHO won’t allow Taiwan to support the global health response in this time of crisis, when the world can learn from Taiwan’s exemplary response. Instead, the WHO is playing politics instead of promoting public health.

The WHO has a great history and the highest of missions—and it should allow Taiwan to help it fulfill that mission.

Eric D. Hargan is the deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.