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Reps. Hyde and Lantos Urge WHO Chief to Advance Taiwan's Participation in Battle Against Avian Flu

 

Dr. Lee Jong-wook                                                                           January 30, 2006

Director General, WHO

Avenue Appia 20

1211 Geneva 27

Switzerland

 

Dear Director General Lee:

We hope that this letter finds you and your staff well as you face a variety of global health concerns, including avian flu. The current prospect of an avian flu epidemic merits the full involvement of the entire international community. It also serves as another forceful reason for Taiwan's meaningful and effective participation in the activities of the World Health Organization.

The avian flu has struck China and Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. Commerce between Taiwan and its neighboring countries puts it at risk for importing the virus from an infected area. Taiwan currently employs more that 300,000 foreign workers from Southeast Asia. In 2004, 1.5 million Taiwanese people visited Southeast Asian countries while a half million people from Southeast Asia visited Taiwan. Almost 4 million people from Taiwan visit China annually. Taiwan is also an important transit point for migratory birds, which are the main carries of the avian flu virus. Approximately one million migratory birds annually pass through Taiwan or reside in Taiwan during the winter season.

Taiwan has thus far been free of the H5N1 strain of the avian flu virus, but is seriously at risk. A less virulent strain of avian flu, H7N3, was found in the droppings of migratory birds in Taiwan. Further, on October 14, 2005, a vessel from China was discovered with 1,037 smuggled pet birds on board. Among the 46 birds randomly selected for tests, 8 were found H5N1 positive. The consequences are unthinkable if the vessel had not been discovered in time.

Taiwan has taken measures to combat bird flu within its borders, but effective efforts will require the engagement of the entire region and the world. It is disturbing that Taiwan has not been given full access to the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), the Global Influenza Program (GIP), the Global Early Warning and Response System (GLEWS), and the Global Influenza Surveillance System (GISN).

Diseases know no borders. Taiwan cannot afford to be the missing link in this international battle against the avian flu. Even more importantly, the global community cannot afford to leave Taiwan out.

We in the US Congress have passed numerous resolutions supporting Taiwan's WHO participation, and the US government is on record in support of Taiwan's WHO observer status.

We sincerely hope that you will show the leadership necessary to advance this matter.  And we will pay close attention to WHO actions in this regard.

Sincerely,

HENRY HYDE                          TOM LANTOS

Chairman                                  Ranking Democratic Member

 

 

 
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