Global Public Health Must Come Before Politics — A Look Into Taiwan's Exclusion From the WHO

I’ve been considering writing this story for a while since I saw lots of news and claims from China and WHO questioning Taiwan's effort on the control of coronavirus. I don’t want to bring hatred and anger amid the virus ordeal, but I was infuriated to see the Director-General of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus accusing Taiwan of being racist to smear and intimidate him on April 8th. 

His careless words have brought huge disappointment and frustration not only to the government leaders and the general public, but also to medical professionals and healthcare providers who have put so much effort and risked their lives at the frontline to turn around the situation. Right now, the world is in desperate need of unity and support, as well as reliable information and strong leadership. The WHO Director's remarks are irresponsible and hateful and come after a reckless series of choices that singled out Taiwan from the global public health response.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

針對台灣被指控在國際社會上發動種族歧視攻擊的言論,我要表達強烈的抗議。請大家把真相轉給世界各國的朋友。同時,我也歡迎網路上的朋友幫忙翻譯成各國語言,讓我們一起透過網路向世界說明台灣的立場:  I strongly protest the accusations today that Taiwan is instigating racist attacks in the international community. Taiwan has always opposed all forms of discrimination. For years, we have been excluded from international organizations, and we know better than anyone else what it feels like to be discriminated against and isolated.  I want to take this opportunity to invite Director-General Tedros to visit Taiwan and experience for himself how committed the Taiwanese people are to engaging with and contributing to the world, even in the face of discrimination and isolation.  Taiwan’s selfless medical workers and volunteers can be found around the world. The Taiwanese people do not differentiate by skin color or language; all of us are brothers and sisters. We have never let our inability to join international organizations lessen our support for the international community.  Taiwan has poured all of its efforts into stopping the spread of COVID-19, and our achievements have received a great deal of attention from around the world. Despite being excluded from the WHO due to political manipulation, we have shouldered our responsibility as a member of the international community and taken the initiative to donate face masks and other supplies to medical workers in countries hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.  #TaiwanCanHelp, and the spirit of Taiwan is Helping has never been influenced by nationality or race.  Taiwan is dedicated to the values of freedom, democracy, diversity, and tolerance. We do not condone the use of racist remarks to attack those with different opinions. If Director-General Tedros could withstand pressure from China and come to Taiwan to see Taiwan’s efforts to fight COVID-19 for himself, he would be able to see that the Taiwanese people are the true victims of unfair treatment. I believe that the WHO will only truly be complete if Taiwan is included.  ➡️Twitter🔍蔡英文Tsai Ing-wen

Une publication partagée par 蔡英文 (@tsai_ingwen) le

After being severely hit by SARS in 2003, Taiwan was extremely alert when COVID-19 came around—our country took the threat seriously from day one. The government made all the numbers and information transparent. This allowed the public to catch up with new policies and know exactly how to do their parts to prevent the disease from spreading. Since I'm an international student, I returned to Taiwan when the campus closed. Now, I feel safe at home, not only because Taiwan has a solid healthcare system, but also because everyone here on the island is doing their part to control the spread, whether that means quarantining, social-distancing, or wearing masks. While schools and businesses have been moved remotely in most countries, most schools and businesses remain open in Taiwan. With everyone’s effort, Taiwan’s success in control and prevention has been highlighted by international media coverage. Additionally, Taiwan has contributed to the international solidarity effort by sharing technology to trace the outbreak and donating 10 million face masks to allies, European countries, and the United States. Those masks bear the slogan “Taiwan can help,”  as our government's actions show a genuine desire to serve as a role model in terms of public health. 

It is disappointing to see that Taiwan’s effort is not recognized by the globe and that our country is still excluded from the global health network. Taiwan is not welcome at the WHO and the WHA because of China’s reticence to consider Taiwan as an independent nation. This doesn't simply mean that Taiwan can't help the world; it also means that Taiwan has to fight the pandemic and make decisions on its own without timely information, accurate data, and guidelines from the WHO. At the end of last year, Taiwan emailed WHO to warn the organization that the novel virus might be transmitted through humans, and requested to obtain relevant information. The WHO chose to ignore our warning and even assured global leaders that “there was no mention in the message of ‘human-to-human’ transmission.” The fact that politics interfere with public health is posing a huge threat both to Taiwan and to its neighbor countries populations. 

It’s unjust that WHO has been China-centric and refuses to recognize Taiwan’s effort. Weeks ago, a Hong Kong journalist Yvvone Tong asked a WHO senior official Bruce Alyward if the WHO would reconsider Taiwan’s membership in light of recent events. Alyward pretended not to hear the question and later hung up on her. It’s sad to see WHO officials placing politics over healthcare while proudly stating the empty motto, “Health for all.” The Beijing Government went as far as saying that Taiwan was trying “to use the epidemic to seek independence.” In my opinion, Taiwan is just trying harder than any other country to be a part of the global health network and do their best to control the pandemic. 

Let's hope that the WHO and international leaders will learn from past mistakes and be united against COVID-19. Public health knowledge should be accessible to all, regardless of any political animosity between nations. At the end of the day, hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved if the world came together with a global strategy to address the crisis.

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