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"Don't Taiwanese Children Count?"

Washington Post, July 8, 1998

By: Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

While President Clinton was visiting China, scores of Taiwanese children just across the straits were continuing to fight for their lives against a new, deadly virus. Unfortunately, the doctors treating this illness do not have access to the medical resources of the World Health Organization (WHO) because the regime in China will not permit Taiwan to gain membership. The fact that Taiwan is severely crippled in its effort to save children is a tragedy, with deadly implications for children the world over if this virus is not halted.

Taiwan is in the grip of a fatal epidemic that's showing no sign of slowing down. Over the past month, more than 50 children have reportedly died due to the outbreak of a virulent strain of enterovirus type 71, which causes severe inflammation of muscles surrounding the brain, spinal cord and heart. Infants and children are most vulnerable to this highly contagious virus.

Physicians treating the children unfortunately do not have access to the best medical information available because Taiwan is not allowed membership in the WHO, and cannot share in the organization's vital resources and expertise. This issue should not be about geopolitics; it should be about helping humanity.

Over the past half-century, the WHO has become the foremost international organization working to control and eradicate disease and to improve health for people the world over. Through the WHO's highly effective immunization programs, millions of children live better, longer and healthier lives. The WHO has already helped protect some eight out of 10 children worldwide from major childhood diseases, including measles and tuberculosis, and has worked to reduce the global infant mortality rate by 37 percent since 1970. The WHO was also instrumental in eradicating the smallpox epidemic, which spread to 31 countries in the late 1960s and claimed nearly two million lives.

Children suffer from the effects of inadequate health care, whether they live in Los Angeles, Milan, Hong Kong, or Taipei. With the high frequency of international travel, the risk of transmitting infectious diseases such as AIDS, the Hong Kong bird flu and the enterovirus is greater than ever. In addition, increased international trade leads to a greater potential for the cross-border spread of such deadly viruses.

I believe the denial of WHO membership to Taiwan is an unjustifiable violation of its people's fundamental human rights. Good health is a basic right for every citizen of the world, and Taiwan's admission to the WHO would greatly help foster that right for its people.

China, of course, is not the only obstacle to Taiwan's admission to the WHO. The Clinton administration, as with the two previous administrations, does not support Taiwan's participation in international organizations. However, the U.S. State Department's 1994 Taiwan Policy Review clearly stated it would more actively support Taiwan's membership in international organizations when the U.S. government determines that "it is clearly appropriate."

I and more than 50 of my colleagues in the House believe U.S. support for Taiwan's admission to the WHO is and has long been "clearly appropriate." Last February I introduced a resolution expressing the sense of Congress that Taiwan and its people should be represented in the WHO and that it should be U.S. policy to support Taiwan's membership.

As the WHO celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, the organization can proudly claim 191 nations as members. But for the past 25 years, Taiwan has been shut out of the WHO because of China's continued intransigence toward its small island neighbor. Every day, children and the elderly in Taiwan suffer needlessly because their doctors aren't able to have access to WHO medical protocols that save lives. The longer we wait, the more desperate the situation in Taiwan grows. We must act immediately to right a very serious wrong.

The writer is a Democratic representative from Ohio and ranking minority member of the House subcommittee on health and the environment.

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