WHO is neglecting Taiwan in SARS fight, students say

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A group of Taiwanese students says the World Health Organization is short-changing Taiwan in its efforts to eradicate Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Two Taiwanese graduate students — Shu Yuan Yang GRD ’06 and Hui-Ju Wu GRD ’02 — recently started a letter-writing campaign criticizing the WHO for ignoring Taiwan’s pleas for assistance following the recent outbreak of the disease there. The letter, directed to WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland, asks the organization to recognize Taiwan as a “self-governed, democratic, sovereign state” that operates independently of the People’s Republic of China.

The Taiwanese government has been transparent and progressive in reacting to the SARS epidemic, while the Chinese government has procrastinated and downplayed the SARS crisis, the students said in the letter.

The refusal of the WHO to provide critical information and medical advice to Taiwan not only leaves the lives of its 23 million residents at risk, but also presents a serious health threat to the global community, the students reported in the letter. As of April 15, the WHO had confirmed 23 cases of SARS in Taiwan.

Because Taiwan is not an official member of the WHO, Yang said the organization has done injustice to the island since the mysterious disease emerged.

“[Taiwan] has been working towards becoming a member or observer for a long time but has been denied,” Yang said by e-mail. “The many problems of [Taiwan] not being included were really manifested, so we felt like we should really voice ourselves and get others’ and the WHO’s attention on the unfair treatment again.”

Yang said he hopes the letter-writing campaign will make more people aware of the problems that Taiwan is facing as a result of its exclusion from the WHO.

“We hope by getting as many people as possible to send a letter of protest to the WHO, they would take into serious consideration [Taiwan's] request to become a part of the organization,” Yang said. “Since we are a part of the international community, we should not be excluded from the medical resources shared amongst everyone else.”

The WHO initially discovered SARS, a highly contagious, pneumonia-like viral disease from Asia, in late February. As of April 15, the WHO confirmed at least 3,235 cases and 154 deaths in more than 20 countries.

Amy Wang ’03 said she supported the letter-writing campaign because many of her friends and family currently live in Taiwan.

“I have a lot of personal connections to Taiwan,” Wang said. “Even though it is a small gesture, I do think it is important to voice your opinions.”

Wang said she hopes the letter-writing campaign will push the WHO to recognize Taiwan’s concerns.

“It is hard to remove the politics from something like this when the health and safety of people are concerned,” Wang said.

A staff member checks the health documents of a passenger Tuesday at Shanghai Pudong International Airport.
AFP
A staff member checks the health documents of a passenger Tuesday at Shanghai Pudong International Airport.

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