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Taiwan just wants to share in health facts

Late last month, the Republic of China on Taiwan was again rebuffed in its efforts to participate in the World Health Organization.

Taiwan was not seeking membership but merely hoping to participate as an observer. This was Taiwan's third attempt to gain observer status. Again, the doors were slammed in its face due to the pressure exerted by Mainland China on this U.N. agency and its member countries.The Republic of China's lack of formal recognition is playing havoc in getting simple global courtesies. Taiwan is not formally recognized by most of the countries in the world. It is something our people have lived with for more than 20 years. Like any person with a disability, we work around it and do our best.

We have one of the world's highest life-expectancy levels in Asia. Our national health plan provides thorough care to the island's residents. Our health plan has contributed to an infant mortality rate comparable to developed countries. In certain health-related areas, we are even ahead of most first-world countries. For example, Taiwan is the first country to offer children free hepatitis B vaccinations. We have made great progress, yet by accessing the knowledge of the WHO, we are capable of doing much more and are able to help other countries do better.

The WHO is a global health body, and as such, it should be able to transcend political and national boundaries. In an age where jet travel abounds, diseases heed no man-made borders. Cooperation may be the only solution for disease control and prevention. It's just not logical for any country not to figure into this equation.

The WHO is the keeper of valuable research, records and sage policies in health care. To not share its experience is a crime against humanity as well as unwise, given today's rapid globalization.

Furthermore, withholding information when it could save or improve lives runs contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Last Summer, an enterovirus hit Taiwan called Type 71. A particularly virulent strain of flu, it killed more than 70 children and sickened more than 1,000. When Taiwan health officials asked the WHO for information, they were refused assistance. Not giving Taiwan access to life-saving information is akin to human rights abuse.

The WHO's dismissal has not diminished our zeal to play a part in the global community. In fact, Taiwan is most generous with its medical and humanitarian aid to Africa, Latin America and other places. When Albanian refugees flooded Macedonia, Taiwan was the first country to donate $2 million for refugee relief and encourage its civic organizations to do more. More recently, President Lee announced Taiwan would provide $300 million in aid to help the Kosovar refugee problem.

In 1997, when Taiwan was denied observer status in the WHO, mainland China justified the rejection by saying Beijing was watching over the health of the people of Taiwan. The statement was laughable given that Taiwan has never been ruled by the People's Republic of China. The fact that the 22 million people on Taiwan are without representation in the WHO is a problem that needs to be addressed.

In recent years, the Republic of China has chosen to seek observer status to diminish political dispute in the WHO. Taiwan does not wish to replace mainland China in the WHO or the United Nations, it just wants to share in the knowledge and contribute to global health. Is this too much to ask?

Amy S.C. Liu is the Director of Information Division of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco.