Lonely Quest for Help on Health"
Post - August 1, 2001
Ming Liang, Taiwan's U.S.-trained director general of health,
is on a crusade to get his country's population of 23 million
adequate access to world health forums, data and special
five attempts by Taiwan to join the World Health Organization's
assembly, not as a full member but with observer status,
have been denied, most recently in May. The International
Committee of the Red Cross, Rotary International, the Vatican,
the Palestine Liberation Organization and Malta all enjoy
observer status at the World Health Assembly, according
to Lee, a graduate of the Rutgers University medical school
in Piscataway, N.J.
also has been denied entry into other organizations that
Lee, a pediatric geneticist and molecular biologist, views
as essential resources in battling the AIDS pandemic.
which considers the self-governing island part of its territory,
has successfully campaigned to diminish the global status
of Taiwan, which is recognized by only 28 countries. The
United States withdrew its recognition of Taiwan in favor
of China in 1979.
are not going into this as a national entity," Lee
said. "Twenty-some million people are at risk at this
point. I hope people understand we are not troublemakers.
. . . Health should be divorced from politics."
cases in Taiwan have risen from a scattered few to 4,000
-- far fewer than the 1 million with HIV or AIDS in Thailand,
he noted, but still worrisome. "I am worried about
how we can prevent this from picking up momentum,"
he said in an interview Monday. "Unless we ask, nobody
thinks of us -- as if we are nonexistent."
Taiwan lost 80 children after the outbreak of the enterovirus
type 71, an intestinal ailment. "We were virtually
left alone to fight it, and felt isolated," Lee emphasized.
Through personal ties, some Taiwanese physicians established
contact with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, but the help was "not timely"
for the children who died. The board of aGeneva-based public
health alliance told Taiwan it could not be included, because
the group is managed within the WHO, although it said it
would try to be helpful on a "case-by-case basis."
Other groups just advised Taiwan not to apply.
we are seeking is modest, not ambitious. From a humanitarian
point of view, we ought to be part of all this. We need
help and we can help others, too," Lee said, pointing
out that his country has spent $100 million on health programs
since 1995 in 78 countries that have no diplomatic relations
officials he met at the American Institute in Taiwan, which
handles relations in the absence of formal diplomatic ties,
spoke of "political realities" but told Lee not
to give up. "If the United States cannot help us, who
can? If the U.S. is not willing to help us, then who will?"
supported China's successful bid to host the 2008 Summer
Olympics as a "gesture," he explained. "If
we set politics aside, we can have the Olympics in China,
and if, politics aside, Taiwan seeks observer status in
health organizations, this is very, very reasonable."