The global outbreak of coronavirus, first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, is presenting the international community with an unprecedented array of economic, medical, political and social challenges. Taiwan, on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic less than 130 kilometers from China, is not immune. In fact, the country is soldiering on outside the support network of the World Health Organization (WHO).
This wholly unsatisfactory state of affairs is the direct result of China’s refusal to allow Taiwan a voice in the WHO. Despite a highly touted National Health Insurance system and a long track record of successful cross-border medical initiatives benefiting people of all ethnicities, the country remains shut out of the U.N. specialized agency on political grounds. Such a blinkered and politically motivated approach, which threatens the health and well-being of Taiwan’s 23 million people, makes no sense when the international family of nations needs to come together in combating coronavirus and realizing Health For All.
Despite receiving a cold shoulder from the WHO, Taiwan is warmly embraced by allies and like-minded partners, as well as governmental and nongovernmental bodies acting honestly, openly and transparently in the best interests of those they represent. These countries and groups are rallying to a noble cause, voicing support for Taiwan and the need for its meaningful participation in the activities, mechanisms and meetings of the WHO like the 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA) scheduled for May 17-21 in Geneva.
The unprecedented backing comes from all corners. Leaders, lawmakers, medical experts, media pundits, activists and celebrities are among a growing legion acknowledging Taiwan as a beacon of freedom, democracy, human rights and rules-based order, as well as a force for good in the world. Sadly and regrettably, it took the COVID-19 pandemic to create the conditions for many to better understand and fully appreciate the ways Taiwan Can Help.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Taiwan has taken the spirit of this proverb to heart, using it to shape a policy applied with great vim and vigor to coronavirus-fighting efforts. When signs first surfaced of atypical pneumonia cases in Wuhan, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) drew on the country’s deep experience with severe acute respiratory syndrome and immediately took action.
This included carrying out onboard health inspections of passengers returning from Wuhan, fever screening of arrivals, and contact, occupation and travel assessments. Other measures comprised implementing mandatory reporting of severe clinical cases by health care facilities and heightened protective equipment standards for at-risk medical personnel, as well as raising awareness of prevention measures among travelers and keeping the public abreast of the latest related developments via TV and social media platforms.
What was perceived at the time as an aggressive strategy by the MOHW and CDC saved lives and is now known globally as the Taiwan Model. It also opened the door for the country to collaborate closely with natural allies on coronavirus vaccine development and studies through Academia Sinica—Taiwan’s foremost research institution—and share surgical masks, forehead thermometers, gloves, goggles, gowns, rapid testing kits and other equipment. Agreements with nations the world over regarding donations and exchanges of such essential medical items have generated widespread media coverage, winning the country even more friends abroad.
With the COVID-19 pandemic showing no sign of abating, cooperation, friendship, support, trust and unity are just what the doctor ordered to allow the world to heal. It is long past time for the WHO to heed the clarion call of the international community and give Taiwan a seat at the WHA table.