Taiwan's ability to share health care advances stymied by exclusion from WHO
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In February, an American student Kevin Bozeat shared on his Facebook page his amazing medical experience while studying in Taiwan. Kevin had no health insurance there but still received high-quality and affordable medical care. His story attracted debate in the U.S. media regarding what he had experienced and what the U.S. can learn from Taiwan. Providing quality health care at an affordable cost is an area Taiwan excels in. And Taiwan is eager to share its extraordinary advances in health care around the world. Regrettably, this wish is stymied by China’s irrational obstruction against Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO).   

As Taiwan’s Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung stated in a recent interview: “Taiwan’s expertise in disease control and universal health coverage can strengthen global medical development, and the nation is willing and able to share its experiences.”  What better place to achieve this goal than at the upcoming 72nd WHA in Geneva from May 20 to 28 ?  However, due to China’s political meddling in what should be a basic human right – access to affordable health care for all the world’s citizens – Taiwan and its input and expertise have been excluded from the annual WHA gathering since 2017.  

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The WHO’s own constitution states the following: “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.” China’s repeated efforts to exclude the health needs and contribution of the 23 million people of Taiwan blatantly violate this stated fundamental goal of the WHO. Health care is a fundamental human right which should be available to every person.  

Despite these challenges, Taiwan has consistently worked with like-minded partners in the past decades to respond to various global health care crises such as the SARS outbreak and the Ebola pandemic with both medical expertise and financial resources. The Global Cooperation and Training Framework (GCTF), established by Taipei and Washington, held a number of workshops addressing such pressing global health issues as the Zika virus, dengue fever and the Enterovirus. 

Taiwan’s International Healthcare Training Center, established in 2002, offers training in clinical medicine, traditional medicine and health care management, to approximately 1,500 health professionals from 65 countries and territories. Taiwan’s Global Medical Instruments Support and Service Program, established in 2005, has also integrated efforts by hospitals across Taiwan to provide usable equipment to developing nations – shipping over 5,400 items to medical institutions in 33 countries and territories.  

Earlier this year, Taiwan’s Yang-Ming University and Taipei Veterans General Hospital launched a joint project with the U.S. National Cancer Institute, establishing a bilateral cancer laboratory for research into lung cancer, one of the deadliest cancers in both countries. Taiwan has a lot to offer in this regard, having become a leading center in cancer screening and research – offering its citizens fully subsidized screening for breast, cervical, colorectal and oral cavity cancers since 2010.

Meaningful participation in the WHO will allow Taiwan to fully contribute its abundant medical experiences. Taiwan can do so much more if it was freed from the shackles on its international space imposed by an overbearing China in order to interact and network with experts in the global medical community. 

Taiwan has already clearly demonstrated its role as a responsible health care stakeholder in the global community, despite China’s efforts to exclude Taiwan from international participation. It is therefore time for Taiwan to be again accorded a seat at the table at the annual WHA assembly. Because, yes, Taiwan can help.

Stanley Kao is Representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States.