INTERVIEW/Taiwan’s VP reiterates need to participate in WHO, despite criticism

Taipei,  Vice President Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) reiterated Tuesday the need for Taiwan to participate in the World Health Organization (WHO), despite criticism that the agency has been ineffective in containing the spread of the coronavirus disease COVID-19.

Chen said that the Republic of China (Taiwan’s official name) was one of the countries that advocated the establishment of the WHO in the early years, with the hope that all mankind will be taken care of by the special agency under the United Nations.

Chen, an epidemiologist and Taiwan’s health minister during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, said that previous WHO directors-general had performed well.

“During the SARS outbreak, the then-WHO director-general dispatched a team of health professionals to Taiwan for cooperation, despite obstruction from ‘a certain country,'” Chen said, an obvious reference to China.

The WHO first introduced the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) mechanism during the SARS outbreak, he said.

To date, six PHEICs have since been declared, including one in 2009, just one month after confirmed SARS cases were reported in only three countries.

The latest PHEIC was issued by the WHO in January 2020, when new COVID-19 infections had already breached the 8,000 mark worldwide, Chen said.

“Prevention measures for outbreaks should be put in place as early as possible. There is no room for delay,” he said, taking a swipe at the current WHO leadership for its slow response over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chen has criticized Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the current WHO director-general, several times for echoing China’s view of the situation during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in failure to act before it spread across the world.

Asked whether there is still a need for Taiwan to participate in the WHO, considering its “late reaction” and “troubling performance” over the COVID-19 pandemic, Chen said that there is indeed such a need.

Taiwan needs to be part of the WHO so that it can receive first-hand information on health issues and share its knowledge and experience in the field of health, he said.

Aside from that, the WHO’s work is not limited to communicable diseases, but also encompasses environmental hygiene, chronic diseases, health care systems and many other areas, Chen said.

As to how to change the WHO for the better in terms of performance, Chen replied that it would come about “by strengthening its professionalism, involving more countries and most importantly, by lessening political interference.”

He also stressed the importance of openness and transparency at a time of health crisis, because this will lead to people’s better understanding of the actual situation, which in turn will help them take the correct action to survive the crisis.

He thanked the 50,000 to 60,000 Taiwanese people who are under home quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, describing them as heroes who have sacrificed freedom temporarily to prevent a total lockdown of cities, allowing the majority to maintain their daily routines.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel