The new reality of the coronavirus pandemic, together with the increasing conflict between Beijing and Taipei, exposes the cunningly disguised political bias of the World Health Organisation (WHO). At times when global cooperation is needed more than ever, Taiwan, which prides itself with having one of the best global healthcare systems experiences high levels of discrimination.
Considering its geographical proximity to China, Taiwan was thought to be a place deeply affected by the spread of coronavirus. Yet, against all odds, it has remained one of the least infected regions in the world, with only a few confirmed deaths. Substantial levels of planning, the strong public health infrastructure, and the strict surveillance measures have prevented the fire from burning.
Following the SARS 2003 outbreak, Taiwan officials promised not to be caught unprepared in a state of emergency again. With that in mind, the Asian Tiger currently excels in the containment of the virus. At the core of its highly effective management lays the governance: Taiwan’s vice president, Chen Chien-jen, is an epidemiologist, who received his doctorate at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. Chien-jen, together with other public health officials, launched the National Health Command Center – a hub of several smaller centers responsible for the management of medical emergencies. The experience of the top officials, along with the large pool of human resources, allowed for the broad surveillance of the virus spread and swift public health response.
Both the strict rules regarding social distancing and highly accurate contact tracing lay at the heart of the efficient management of the virus spread. The electronic health and travel records of the Taiwanese were paired and carefully evaluated: “arriving passengers were to fill the health questionnaire by scanning a QR code with their phones while still on planes, and then sent a message providing them with a health declaration pass to fast-track through immigration.” In this manner, people could avoid queueing in the airport, reducing the risk of spreading the virus or becoming infected.
Similarly, the Taiwanese medical resources are also strictly controlled, be it by the ban on the export of protective masks or the active engagement of the military in the mask production to ensure everyone who needed one would have access. The resources were further effectively allocated owing to the educational campaign to eliminate misinformation and calm the general public, eliminating the risk-imposing bulk-buying.
Following the anti-separatist guidelines of China, the WHO does not share the positive attitude of the general public towards the preventive measures adopted by Taiwan. Rejected from the position of an observer in the WHO sessions in 2004, Taiwan was allowed to participate in such only between 2009 and 2016 – the time when the Taiwan-Beijing relation experienced a political thaw under KMT president, Ma Ying-jeou. The reconciliation between this Asian duo ended along with the election of highly democratic Tsai Ing-wen as the president of Taiwan.
The question of the Asian Tiger loomed over the WHO officials over the weekend. In a move not to antagonize China, Bruce Aylward, the WHO assistant director-general, was obnoxiously avoiding questions about Taiwan in a TV interview. To avoid difficult questioning, Aylward firstly blamed the poor Internet connection, then hung up on the interviewer. Eventually, being fired at with another question about Taiwan’s response, the official stated: “Well, we’ve already talked about China.” Unsurprisingly, a wave of criticism swept over the international organization.
The reaction of Aylward mirrors the current relationship between Taiwan and the WHO. The Asian Tiger has established its domination over global healthcare systems. Yet, it is still officially excluded from emergency meetings and important expert briefings on the pandemic – a strategic move designed to prevent condemnation from China.
Following on from the interview, the WHO has been buried under the avalanche of accusations of discriminatory policies towards China. At the very beginning of the virus outbreak in Wuhan, the WHO evaded the questions about the person-to-person transmission asked by the Taiwanese officials. Similarly, it continues calculating Taiwan’s coronavirus statistics together with China’s, depriving the global healthcare systems of accurate and timely information on the pandemic and, consequently, contributing to the mismanagement of the crisis it was supposed to avert.
The manifestation of the capabilities of the Taiwan public healthcare system goes hand in hand with the display of the political bias of the leading global health organization that seemed to forget that the virus knows no national borders. Consequently, no country should be given a cold shoulder – it can be either its experience needed somewhere else or its hardship that can be eased by others. Though, the ongoing wave of support towards Taiwan’s health policies brings a wave of optimism: the current lay of the land has the potential to cement the ties between the Asian Tiger and both Europe, as well as the US.
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Dal cartaceo di maggio 2020