Help Taiwan Fight
By Chen Shui-bian
Friday, May 9, 2003; Page A35
The outbreak and
spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, has brought
illness, death and economic peril to Asia and the rest of the world.
It has also drawn attention to Taiwan's exclusion from the World
Health Organization. If there was ever a time for my country to be
allowed to join the WHO, it is now.
democratically elected president, my first and foremost obligation
is to the people of Taiwan. When SARS first appeared in Taiwan in
March, our health system responded quickly and effectively. As a
result, Taiwan initially achieved a record of zero mortality, zero
community transmission and zero transmission abroad of SARS. But
despite our efforts, another outbreak occurred in late April. We
have taken strict measures in response, and are working day and
night to contain the disease.
health crisis, my government has acted in the best interest of our
people and of foreign nationals living in and visiting Taiwan. At no
time has my administration suppressed information about the disease.
Our press has reported freely on SARS. More important, our officials
know that they are accountable to the people, both morally and at
the ballot box. Whatever problems arise for Taiwan, we will solve
them according to the highest standards of medicine, government
accountability and human compassion.
I also have an
obligation to the world. Taiwan is a nation of 23 million people and
a major trading partner for many countries. What happens in Taiwan
affects many millions more around the world. For that reason, Taiwan
immediately offered to work with the WHO in combating SARS.
Unfortunately, we were rebuffed. However, in response to the most
recent rise in the number of cases, and for the first time in
decades, two experts from the WHO arrived in Taiwan last week. I
welcome this assistance and have directed my government and called
on my people to cooperate fully with them.
The WHO's decision
to send these experts to Taiwan has great significance. It
demonstrates that Taiwan is indispensable to international public
health. But it also suggests that cooperation between the WHO and
Taiwan should not be left to ad hoc arrangements.
country's advanced health system, staffed by doctors and nurses
educated in highly respected institutions at home and abroad, and
despite a strong desire to participate in the WHO, Taiwan is denied
membership or even observer status in the organization. As a
consequence, our epidemiologists are still unable to gain prompt
access to information, such as samples of the virus, that could help
our scientists learn about the disease and treat patients.
Nevertheless, we have tried to provide information to international
organizations to ensure that Taiwan can make the maximum
contribution to solving this health problem.
The effort to
understand and control SARS continues. Viral experts seek answers to
important questions. Doctors and health professionals on the front
line of the battle against SARS need as much information as possible
to be able to deal with the disease. Moreover, like the WHO,
international health officials need as much data as possible about
SARS and the way it behaves in different environments and among
Taiwan, with a
population larger than those of three-quarters of the countries of
the world, is a piece of a global puzzle that experts need to
understand to cope with the virus. Taiwan has long wanted not only
to benefit from the WHO's expertise but also to share the
responsibility that all countries have to global public health. Many
health care professionals around the world have expressed their
support for Taiwan's admission to the WHO as an observer. We are
We hope that at
the WHO meeting on May 19, this important organization will invite
Taiwan to be an observer. Taiwan's people should not be excluded
from efforts to defeat SARS. Nor should the rest of the world be
denied the important contribution Taiwan can and wants to make to
The writer is
president of the Republic of China (Taiwan).
2003 The Washington Post Company