Health Care for All Humanity? The Case of the World Health Organisation and Taiwan

Written by Najee Woods (葉正忠)

Image credit: Health by GotCredit/Flickr, license: CC BY 2.0

“It is the purpose of the World Health Organisation to serve the health of all people all over the world, instead of pandering to the specific political position of a particular country.” –President Tsai Ing-wen

In May, The World Health Organization (WHO) held its 2019 annual assembly in Geneva. Member-states sent their delegations to participate in discussions of global health. For the third straight year, Taiwan did not receive an invitation to partake in the World Health Assembly (WHA), due to what WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier described as a lack of “cross-strait understanding” between Taiwan and China. Since the pro-Taiwan Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Tsai Ing-wen won the presidency in 2016, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), a totalitarian regime with ambitions to annex Taiwan, has exercised every tool in its arsenal to politically obstruct and deprive Taiwan’s right of fair representation in international organisations. WHO, an organisation responsible for promoting global health, has become a willing political vessel to serve the oppressive interests of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

23.5 million Taiwanese citizens have been neglected by WHO since being expelled from the United Nations in the early 1970s. Since the late 1990s, Taiwan has attempted on numerous occasions to gain observer status within WHO, but requests were not considered in the WHA agenda. Taiwan does not have the same privileges that other WHO member-states enjoy, such as access to information on the latest outbreaks and epidemics. The lack of access to WHO databases detrimentally affects the Taiwanese population and further creates a blind spot for potential diseases to spread throughout the entire global network.

During the 2003 SARS outbreak, WHO initially refused to dispatch medical experts to Taiwan until it received permission from the Chinese government. Taiwan had to rely solely on the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the latest information on SARS. Despite Taiwan being able to manage the outbreak within its borders, WHO politics resulted in Taiwan becoming the 3rd hardest hit area after China and Hong Kong, incurring a death toll of 37 Taiwanese lives.

In 2005 the PRC representative and the WHO Secretariat signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding Taiwan’s participation in the WHO. According to the agreement, anything health related Taiwan issues must receive the approval from China’s Ministry of Health. The government of Taiwan was not consulted. During the pro-China Ma administration, Taiwan participated in the WHA for eight consecutive years as an observer under the name “Chinese Taipei”. However, that was only possible due to President Ma Ying-Jeou accepting the so-called “1992 Consensus”, a non-existent tacit agreement that both sides of the Straits recognise Taiwan and China as one country. With the MOU and the “Consensus” as cornerstones, the CCP actively promoted a false narrative that Beijing represents the interest of the Taiwanese people and there is no need for separate Taiwanese representation in international bodies.

Taiwan’s contributions to the field of health speak for themselves. Taiwan’s National Health Insurance (NHI) system is one of the best single payer systems in the world. Effectively all Taiwanese citizens are insured under the NHI. With health care expenses totalling 6.3% of GDP, Taiwan achieves better results and higher life expectancy than the United States at 17.8% of GDP. Taiwan has invested more than $6 billion in medical and humanitarian aid throughout the world and has made significant contributions in tackling infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS, and ebola.

WHO’s constitution clearly states: “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.” Purposely excluding Taiwan by prioritising the PRC’s political ambitions over the health of all runs contrary to the intention of the WHO constitution. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysurs constantly promotes the idea of health care for all humanity. But how can the world achieve “health for all” if the same organisation abides by the Chinese regime’s using WHO to persecute Taiwan? Until WHO allows Taiwan fair representation at WHA, the Director-General’s words are nothing more than an empty slogan.

Najee J Woods (葉忠正), a graduate of Wright State University with two bachelor’s degree’s in Political Science and Chinese Studies. He’s currently a writer for American Citizen’s For Taiwan and a member of Formosan Association for Public Affairs.

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