“Become a Partner in Combating Swine Flu”
By Taiwan's Health Minister, Yeh Ching-chuan
The Republic of China (Taiwan) has long sought to return to the World Health Organization (WHO) in order to directly and effectively contribute to the international health network and global disease prevention efforts. Recently, this goal was finally achieved when Taiwan accepted the invitation of Margaret Chan, director-general of WHO, to take part in the 2009 World Health Assembly, as an observer under the name “Chinese Taipei,” when the assembly convenes in Geneva on May 18.
With the continuing growth of global trade, tourism and business travel, national borders appear increasingly irrelevant when it comes to dealing with human health threats. Both information sharing between countries and international technical assistance are hugely important for global pandemic prevention and other concerns. Recent efforts to keep emerging influenza viruses under control and assure food safety offer concrete examples.
There is an urgent need for every country to cooperate and exchange information to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus. As a member of the international community, Taiwan will closely participate in the international prevention effort — exchanging information freely with all countries, striving to prevent transmission and the further spread of the disease, and working to develop and manufacture a vaccine and stockpile pertinent medical treatment materials to deal with a potential outbreak. When needed, Taiwan will also extend a helping hand to assist other countries with disease prevention and help provide the necessary medical treatment resources to resist the influenza virus.
Another area in which Taiwan is fully prepared to cooperate and contribute within the WHO framework is global food safety, an increasingly serious problem. Rapid transportation and advanced preservation techniques are allowing foodstuffs to travel great distances and be consumed around the world like never before. Finished food products enjoy wide circulation, and their ingredients can come from any corner of the globe. As the sourcing of ingredients grows ever more complex, food safety is becoming more and more difficult to control. Only the correspondingly swift circulation of accurate information — as well as enhanced cross-border cooperation when it comes to monitoring and controlling foodstuffs — can keep countries abreast of the safety of each type of food product and trace the source and destination of contaminated foods the moment a threat is uncovered. Modern food safety management differs from traditional approaches, and prevention nowadays requires concerted cooperation between countries.
Like all countries, Taiwan is confronted with these major public health issues. As a major global trading hub facing the challenges of a globalized world, it is more imperative than ever for Taiwan to be fully included in the international health network. Taiwan therefore looks forward to actively participating in and contributing to WHO activities in its new capacity as an observer — not only to better ensure the health safety of its 23 million people, but that of the global population as well.
Taiwan also has much to share with other countries in terms of its outstanding health system. The Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Taiwan second worldwide in terms of health system performance. Taiwan has a long history of public health challenges and successes, such as eliminating domestic cases of smallpox, cholera, malaria and polio, providing comprehensive inoculations against hepatitis B, and launching one of the world’s premiere universal health insurance programs. Taiwan has demonstrated malaria-fighting results in São Tomé and Príncipe and has set up Taiwan Health Centers in both the Solomon Islands and the Marshall Islands to provide medical treatment and public health services. Taiwan is more than willing to help other countries solve various public health challenges, such as medical network planning, infectious disease prevention and treatment, health insurance, medical research, emergency relief and aid, as well as tobacco hazard prevention. The return of Taiwan to the international health mainstream will enable us to more effectively share our experience and resources with other countries.
The international community has positively affirmed Taiwan’s pragmatic and flexible attitude with Taiwan’s invitation to become an observer in the World Health Assembly this year. Taiwan’s participation in the WHO is a great step forward for global health-related human rights and seals the last remaining gap in the international health security network. Finally, Taiwan hopes to achieve even greater participation through appropriate means in future WHO-related events, mechanisms and meetings.
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