By Lee I-chia / Staff reporter, with CNA, Geneva, Switzerland
Thirteen allies and like-minded countries had as of Tuesday shown their support for Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Assembly （WHA）, the WHO’s annual decisionmaking meeting.
After the US, Germany and the UK voiced their support as the WHA opened in Geneva, Switzerland, additional countries spoke out on Tuesday, the second day of the assembly.
During the fourth plenary meeting of the 72nd WHA, Palauan Minister of Health Emais Roberts thanked many nations, including the US and Japan, for providing health and infrastructure support to Palau, and took the time to highlight Taiwan’s contribution.
“There is one partner not present in this room and over the past three years since I’ve been here, I have not seen them. They have helped Palau achieve its SDG [UN Sustainable Development Goals] goals and also supported Palau for the past 20 years,” Roberts said.
“They are ranked ninth in the Bloomberg Health Efficiency Index. They are champions of universal healthcare and there are 23 million of them,” he said. “Thank you, Taiwan.”
“Palau does not dispute who is right or wrong in this arena. We all try to do the right thing, sometimes from a different perspective,” Roberts added.
“When we are gathered here at the WHA talking about universal healthcare, no one left behind, I believe that by excluding Taiwan from sharing their success in the WHA, it is not Taiwan who is left behind, but us at the WHA. Palau believes Taiwan can help,” he said.
Canadian Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam voiced her country’s indirect support for Taiwan during the plenary meeting.
“The global community has made great strides in improving the health of populations. We should be proud of that, but there is still more to do,” Tam said. “To achieve our goal, we need to work together to see beyond our differences. Politics should not impede people’s access to the global health system.”
“Canada remains committed to building a health community where everyone is included, regardless of who they are or where they live,” she added.
Honduran Secretary of Health Claudia Quiroz said that to achieve the SDGs and other global health agenda targets, her country must work together at the national and international levels.
It is important to highlight the continuing and indispensable support provided to Honduras by certain governments, including Taiwan, a partner and an ally in the promotion of health for many years, Quiroz said, adding that developing a healthier world clearly means leaving no one behind.
Guatemalan Minister of Health Carlos Enrique Soto Menegazzo lauded Taiwan’s contributions in the healthcare sector.
He thanked Taiwan for having collaborated with Guatemala in broadening health coverage for pregnant women and for providing medical supplies that have allowed the country to improve its health system and enhance emergency preparedness, as well as developing strategies for addressing communicable and non-communicable diseases.
Earlier that day, during the third plenary meeting, Japanese Vice Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Shintani Masayoshi said that regions should not be left out and denied the right to participate, even as observers.
“We think that questions relating to global health cannot be dealt with simply on the basis of political concerns. We believe therefore that the participation of Taiwan as an observer here is essential to help us achieve the goals of this organization,” Paraguayan Minister of Health Julio Mazzoleni said.
Taiwan’s absence puts obstacles in the way of the nation’s exchange of crucial information with other nations, he said, adding that its exclusion would not help the WHO objectives of guiding and promoting world health.
Due to its “one China” principle, Beijing blocked the WHO from inviting Taiwan to the WHA for the third consecutive year since President Tsai Ing-wen （蔡英文） took office.
Taiwan attended the gathering from 2009 to 2016 as an observer when its relations with China were better.
US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar restated his support for Taiwan to have a voice at the WHA during a bilateral meeting with Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung （陳時中） and other Taiwanese health officials in Geneva.
Despite Chinese obstruction, a delegation led by Chen has taken part in peripheral meetings on the sidelines of the WHA and continues to be a voice for Taiwan.
On the first day of the WHA, Azar said that he supports calls for Taiwan to regain observer status at the WHA.
“We regret that once again Taiwan was not invited to observe at this assembly as they were from 2009 to 2016. The 23 million people in Taiwan deserve a voice just as much as anyone else does,” he said.
At the bilateral meeting, topics such as disease prevention, training for public health personnel and the National Health Insurance （NHI） system were discussed.
Shortly after the meeting ended, Azar posted on Twitter a photograph of him and Chen shaking hands, writing: “Met with Taiwan’s Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung. We discussed #globalhealth issues and #Ebola. The people of #Taiwan need a voice at #WHA.”
Chen said he thanked Azar for publicly supporting Taiwan as the US secretary of health and human services and for privately communicating with WHO officials, adding that the two men had a pleasant and fruitful discussion.
“They were very interested in the experiences we shared, especially about our NHI system and the NHI-MediCloud system,” he said.
“I felt glad and proud during our discussion, because we have achievements that the US is interested in learning from,” he said.
They also reached a consensus on the establishment of an exchange platform for disease prevention information, Chen said.
The Food and Drug Administration expressed its hope of establishing a mutual inspection and verification mechanism with its US counterpart and of having Taiwanese personnel receive professional training from the US agency, he added.
On Tuesday, Chen and the delegation members attended four forums and held bilateral meetings with the Solomon Islands and the US.
Solomon Islands Minister of Health and Medical Services Dickson Mua Panakitasi, left, and Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung stand next to a banner that reads: “Health for all: Taiwan can help” at a bilateral forum near the venue of the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Health and Welfare