Friday, May 19, 2006

Taiwan seeks WHO observer status for 10th time

Fri May 19, 10:41 AM ET

GENEVA (AFP) - Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian sought observer status at the World Health Organization Friday for the 10th time in as many years, a request that has been systematically blocked by Beijing.

"The Taiwanese people have long been excluded from the world health system because of China's relentless and arbitrary oppression," Chen told reporters here via a video link-up from Taiwan.

Beijing considers Taiwan to be a province of China, and systematically seeks to stymie any initiative by Taiwan to gain international recognition as an independent political entity.

The WHO, which begins its week-long annual assembly on Monday, "has an obligation to provide all people with the best medical services irrespective of their nationality," Chen said. "It should not sacrifice these noble ideals on the altar of brute political force."

Due to its exclusion from the WHO, Chen said, Taiwan had become a "missing link" in the global health and medical system. The native-born Taiwanese president made specific reference to the ongoing bird flu crisis and the outbreak in 2003 of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

China was widely criticized for its initial cover-up of SARS, which then spread globally to infect more than 8,000 people and kill around 800 worldwide, including 349 in China.

During the SARS outbreak, Beijing formally authorized the WHO to send a team of experts to Taiwan, but only a month and a half after the first case appeared on the island.

"The 23 million people of Taiwan are being denied their human right to health. This is completely unfair and might even be called unethical," Chen said.

Taiwan was evicted from the WHO in 1972, a year after losing its seat in the United Nations to China.

Since 1997, Taiwan has applied every year to regain an official status at the WHO, but Beijing remains opposed.

Last year, however, Beijing signed a protocol with the WHO opening the door to a technical cooperation with Taipei that would authorize the UN organization to invite experts from Taiwan to participate in joint activities.

Under the accord, the WHO can also send experts to the island to investigate epidemics or offer medical assistance.

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