Sat, 29 Mar 2003

Taiwan and global health

This is in response to the article titled Killer bug exposes WHO's shortcomings that appeared in The Jakarta Post on March 24 and a March 27 news report bearing the title China raises pneumonia death toll.

The danger of a further spread of the disease, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), was underlined on March 27 when Taiwan's Department of Health disclosed that five of the seven members of a business group that traveled to Beijing and back last week had become infected, apparently during the flight from Taipei to Beijing via Hong Kong. There have been at least 1,323 cases of this disease in 15 countries since last November, including 50 deaths.

China's tardiness in alerting the World Health Organization (WHO) of the deadly disease should be blamed. It not only put its own citizens at unnecessary risk, but also caused panic the world over. Moreover, China's intransigence in not allowing Taiwan to join the WHO may create a loophole in the organization's Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, and impinge on WHO's ability to fight the epidemic.

This syndrome is now a worldwide health threat and the world needs to work together to find its cause, cure the sick and stop its spread.

With thousands of people traveling daily between Taiwan and the mainland, any disease on one side of the strait can easily cross over to the other. It is, therefore, in everyone's self- interest -- particularly that of the mainland -- to ensure Taiwan is not kept out of the loop where medical information is concerned.

This year, the Taiwan government is making another bid to join the WHO with observer status, applying not as a state but as a "health entity". There are already bodies that are observers in the WHO that are not states, such as the International Red Cross and the Palestinian Authority. There seems little reason why Taiwan cannot qualify for observer status.

Human lives should not be sacrificed for political purposes. In this day and age, a health problem in one locality immediately becomes a health hazard around the world. There are practical reasons for ensuring that Taiwan is not isolated where health matters are concerned.

DEREK HSU, Director, Information Division Taipei Economic and

Trade Office, Jakarta