All are needed when pandemics strike!

16 November 2008
All are needed when pandemics strike!

Taiwan, Health Authorities

During my recent visit to Taiwan I had an excellent opportunity to see the system whereby Health Authorities in Taiwan cope with the danger of communicable diseases. In this regard, the infrastructure in the country is truly impressive as there is close surveillance of all incoming passengers through the airports; this includes an up to date registration of the most important diseases that can be transferred from one human to another and even from animals to humans. This needs to be done in all countries of the world as the travel pattern of mankind allows diseases to travel quickly across countries and continents; we have witnessed that several times. Taiwan has truly done its duty.

In the international arena the intergovernmental body, the World Health Organisation (WHO), has the obligation to help nations build their own surveillance system, to have a network of information of all communicable diseases and to facilitate fast information between nations. This works fairly well, but there are weaknesses in the system. One of the major weaknesses is the fact that Taiwan is not included in the system in a manner that works. The reason for this is the political situation with the one China policy, and therefore it is presumed that the government in Beijing will take care of the health situation in Taiwan. But it does not work that way! Taiwan is a sovereign state with its own infrastructure on all levels and that has been so for almost 60 years. For all of us it is very unsatisfactory that this issue has not been resolved in order to truly strengthen the surveillance system of communicable disease throughout the world. The World Medical Association (WMA), which is the international body for doctors in the world, on more than one occasion, has insisted that Taiwan should get some status in the WHO in order to include it in the surveillance system, but this has not happened to date. At that time the wish was that Taiwan receives an NGO (Non Governmental Organisation) status in the WHO, which is a way to include a region of the world without accepting its sovereignty. One example of this is Palestine, which is not a recognized state. Now Taiwan has decided to apply for a full membership in the United Nations and thereby the WHO.

We at the WMA do not take a stand on political matters; the only thing we wish for is to secure the health of mankind in all aspects and by all means. In one way or another, Taiwan must be included in the surveillance system of the WHO. It can easily be argued that Taiwan is one of the most important regions in this regard, as the epidemic of SARS started from there and spread throughout other regions. Another argument is that Taiwan is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. It is therefore difficult for doctors to understand that political situations should interfere with a system that is in place to deal with epidemics. This is a common problem of people all over the world and it should be solved urgently.

Jon Snaedal
President of the World Medical Association (WMA)