Taiwan should be included in the WHO mechanism

Taiwan is currently excluded from the World Health Organization (WHO) mechanism. This is very unfortunate as Taiwan has the will and skills to fight the COVID-19 epidemic and to assist other likeminded countries as well. I’ve communicated this to the President of the European Council Charles Michel, to High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell and to Commissioner Stella Kyriakides and suggested that the EU together with the Member States should raise this issue with the WHO. See my letter below.

Dear President Charles Michel,

Dear High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell,

Dear Commissioner Stella Kyriakides,

As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread across the world, there is an urgent need for international solidarity, cooperation and political will to stop the further spread of the virus. No country can end the crisis alone. 

Keeping this in mind, it has come to my attention that Taiwan has been very successful and effective in coping with the COVID-19 crisis by taking more than 100 concrete measures. Given its proximity to China and frequent person-to-person contact between both sides, Taiwan was initially assessed to have the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases. This, however, has not turned out to be the case. As of 23 March 2020, Taiwan has had 195 confirmed cases, while many of whom were infected abroad. To date, there are no community transmission or mass infections in Taiwan. 

Furthermore, the Academia Sinica in Taiwan announced on March 9 that a group of researchers have successfully developed a new test kit for the COVID-19, which can detect coronavirus just like a rapid influenza test within 20 minutes rather than 4 hours. This scientific breakthrough has quickly drawn wide attention through international media reports. As a consequence, some countries have expressed their interest in working with Taiwan on this medical achievement. In response, Taiwanese government has explicitly shown its willingness and stands ready to contribute to the international community in collaborating with likeminded countries to fight the COVID-19. 

However, these efforts have been met with obstacles due to the fact that Taiwan is excluded from the WHO mechanism, meetings and activities. This is extremely counter-productive in the global fight against COVID-19. An example of this counter-productivity is that Taiwan’s early warnings of the seriousness of this unknown virus were met with disregard. In fact, Taiwan alerted the WHO at the end of December 2019 about the risk of human-to-human transmission of the new virus, but its concerns were not seriously taken by the WHO, nor passed on to other countries, reported by Financial Times. This led to a delay in WHO’s announcement of the human-to-human transmission. Due to this mismanagement, a golden opportunity was lost to raise the alert level both in China and in the world. Furthermore, WHO has not officially informed Taiwan about the epidemic, nor invited Taiwan experts to attend the two meetings organized by WHO Emergency Committee in late January. 

As pandemic knows no borders, incorporating Taiwan in the WHO mechanism would help to mitigate the impact of the epidemic, which is in the interest of the EU and its Member States, as well as the international community. WHO is not a place for geopolitical games, and health issues should never be politicized. 

In my view, the European Union together with the Member States should raise the issue with WHO and do everything they can to include Taiwan in the WHO mechanism and meetings as soon as possible. 

Urmas Paet