Thursday, September 23, 2021

Taiwan’s exclusion from World Health Assembly undermines global health, by Amb. Mary Beth Leonard

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Taiwan was incredibly effective at managing the COVID-19 pandemic and the world has an opportunity to learn from that experience at the May 25-June 1 World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva. If only inviting Taiwan were that easy. Taiwan unfortunately has been blocked from participating in critical international efforts to control the spread of diseases, denied access to important platforms to share its knowledge and expertise, and the 24 million people living on the island are cut off from global health security initiatives. This undermines public health in Nigeria, just as it does in the United States, Taiwan, and around the world. We can all do the right thing and support Taiwan’s participation in international organizations where their contributions would help solve pressing issues, such as alleviating the COVID pandemic.

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The WHA convenes senior health officials and leading health experts from around the world. It is instrumental to coordinating international efforts to improve the health of all people. Indeed, the motto of the WHO is “Health for All.” Taiwan participated in the WHA as an observer between 2009 and 2016, but today finds itself shut out due to political pressure from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Beijing’s actions to prevent Taiwan’s participation in the WHA leave the world, the World Health Organization, and Nigeria worse off.

The world has much to learn from Taiwan at the World Health Assembly. Taiwan’s response to the recent pandemic, led by President Tsai Ing-wen, is rightly lauded as among the world’s most coordinated, transparent, and effective. Even before registering the first confirmed COVID-19 case on January 21, 2020, Taiwan activated its Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) to facilitate inter-ministerial cooperation in prevention and monitoring measures. By late February, the CECC had published a list of 124 action items, which included ramping up mask production through public-private partnerships.

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Taiwan managed to avoid an outbreak by relying on transparency and implementing testing, strict border controls, mandatory quarantine guidelines, and advanced digital technologies for tracking potential infections.  Taiwan threaded the needle between protecting public health and promoting a healthy economy, becoming Asia’s fastest-growing economy in 2020.

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Taiwan not only successfully protected its population, it also sought to support the global population hit hard by the pandemic. In March 2020, President Tsai announced that Taiwan was “willing to contribute capabilities to better protect human health around the world.” Soon after, the island committed to providing 10 million masks to more than a dozen nations, including the United States. Nigeria has received over a 100,000 masks from this effort.

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Taiwan continues to pursue innovative avenues of pandemic support. In April, it launched a “travel bubble” with diplomatic partner Palau. As a result, Taiwanese travelers are arriving in droves and providing much-needed revenue to the tourism-dependent Pacific Island nation.

As long as Taiwan remains excluded from meaningfully participating in international organizations such as the WHO, the world cannot leverage Taiwan’s considerable strengths in medicine, manufacturing, and technology for the greater good.

Taiwan is ready to help us defeat this terrible pandemic. We should let Taiwan help.

Ms Leonard is the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria

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