Interview with Dr Wu Shuh-Min, Special adviser to TaiwanIHA and Chairman of the Foundation of Medical Professionals Alliance in Taiwan
He is a humanitarian and perhaps one of the most dedicated person fighting for the Taiwan’s entrance to the World Health Organization (WHO), something he has been doing for more than ten years. We met him in Geneva where he had once more been assisting at the World Health Organization’s Executive Board, sitting in the placed reserved for the public.
Q: So Dr Wu how are you feeling?
Frustrated, but with satisfaction. We have been promoting Taiwan’s participation for entrance into the WHO since 1997, that’s more than ten years. Of course we went through a lot of hurdles but still, we have not achieved our goals yet. Through the years a lot for professional organizations have supported Taiwan such as the medical, the nurses or the pharmaceutical associations. They are all supportive and they know it’s important to support Taiwan. We have traveled to many democratic countries, and I believe that of all the people we talk to among the health professionals all agree that Taiwan should be part of the World Health Organization. However, once you run into foreign affairs and it becomes a matter of national interest, then we run into trouble. We are promoting the health security issue, and health rights, and then we are criticized by China who turns it into a political issue. This is really the reason why we have not been able to succeed to be part of the World Health Organization.
Q: What is your personal motivation? You keep on going, why?
I really believe that this is the right thing to do! I think the people are behind us. When we brought up the issue in 1997, nobody in Taiwan knew who we were. We have been educated as Chinese and we were taught Chinese history and Chinese geography and the national identity was sort of confused. So the WHO issue, of course nobody knew about it, until we brought up the issue and started to educate the people.Then they started to realize the importance. From educating to reduce people’s ignorance up to now, we have more than 90 percent of the population who want Taiwan to be part of the World Health Organization as a member using the name of Taiwan. So there is a show of really strong support from the people. So I think that is the reason why the Government has changed its strategy last year to using the name of Taiwan when asking for membership.
Q: You have a democracy, your doctors are well-trained and I wonder if you could give us some information as to why you decided to set up TaiwanIHA?
Well I’m Taiwanese, so it’s very natural when my country is facing all these problems. As physician, I felt that I had to at least give back something to the country that had given me so much, so that’s the reason why I went back. I had a very stable life in the US and my father was actually against the fact that I should return to Taiwan. I think he knew that the newspaper business is a money losing business, but I managed to persuade him so in the end he agreed and I went back.
Taiwanese people have gone through a lot - first the Japanese colonial rule then the Chinese colonial rule; now we feel this is the time for Taiwan to become independent. In 1998 we had the Inter virus, and close to 100 children died during this pandemic. When we asked for information from the World Health Organization, they denied us the information, because we are not a member of the organization. During 1999 we had a disastrous earthquake in Taiwan. Several years later, we paid a visit to the Red Cross Headquarters here in Geneva and they told us that they sent us the funds to assist us for this emergency, but the fund had ended up in China. This is the sort of situation that we have been facing through the years. In 2003 again, during the SARS, we asked for the information from the WHO and once again we did not get the information simply because we are not a member. Actually, my hospital was contracted with SARS, and we had a sick nurse who contracted the disease. Two died and another one of them with a baby. During that period of time, a total of 169 personnel were forced to be isolated by the government because they were afraid that we could transmit the disease. In the end we came out ok.
Two nurses and one nurse with a baby were sacrificed. So this is the sort of situation we feel very strongly about, that Taiwan should be
part of the WHO. And not only that, we have to be able to get the care; I think that we can also share the information. Every year we get stronger feelings towards this. We know that this is a very hard fought battle; we still feel this is our mission.
Q: Every year it seems to me that you get more and more support?
Yes I think, through the years I already mentioned that those medical professionals supported Taiwan through their NGOs functions. Actually Japan and the US voted for the observer status of Taiwan; that was in 2004. They voted for Taiwan’s participation. We are gathering some momentum, but unfortunately the European Union has not supported Taiwan yet because they have a one China policy. I think we really feel very strongly that since we share those mainstream bodies such as freedom and democracy - all those democratic countries should support Taiwan, but because of their national interest they are not able to support us. This is very regrettable; this should not happen.
Q: Don’t you think you will succeed in the long run?
This is the reason we do not give up. You know 10 years is a long time, and yet we continue to fight. Every year we come to the WHO meetings and we see how the Chinese treat us. That gives us a sort of fighter spirit…
Q: You said that you have a lot of ambitions for TaiwanIHA, it has only existed one year and you have achieved quite a lot.
As you have known what I’m talking about you would understand that I’m a humanitarian. I feel that, like Africa, this is really the reason why I proposed to the Foreign Affairs to help those countries who needed help. So actually, it’s good to develop with and into the international community, instead of isolating us. We feel that we have tremendous experience with the eradication of rabies, malaria and polio. And all those other things we can share.
Q: I know that medical doctors in developing countries complain that they do not get enough training?
We do provide some training and we offer scholarships. So actually, as a member of society, Taiwan has been performing as a good Samaritan. I still believe that we will be able to achieve our goal. As long as we are responsible and we contribute; I hope that one day we will be recognized
Q: A message for the international community?
Taiwan for WHO, and WHO for Taiwan.