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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14837


Mr DANBY (12:56 PM) —This motion on Taiwan and the World Health Organisation is well timed. Over the weekend, dramatic news came in the form of another 80 reported cases of SARS in Taiwan and a further eight deaths. In examining the spread of the dreadful SARS virus throughout Asia, one of the most alarming facts is that, despite Taiwan's great efforts in this area, the virus continues to spread there. It is extremely regrettable, as the member for Fairfax said, that politics has been able to get in the way of globalised concerns about health. Unfortunately, in the last few weeks, the World Health Assembly in Geneva yet again failed to get on the agenda—for the seventh time, under Chinese pressure on this vital issue—an item to let Taiwan gain observer status at the World Health Organisation. Surely those of us who support a one China policy, who support China being part of the World Trade Organisation and who want China to be part of the world economy can at the same time say that this denial of basic health information by the World Health Organisation to an island of 23 million people cannot be tolerated in a globalised world. The failure of the WHO to act on the SARS epidemic in Taiwan in my view impinges on the organisation's ability, in an era of globalisation, to ensure the health of peoples in all its member states. It harms the medical welfare of the 23 million people of Taiwan, who are excluded from the organisation, and limits Taiwan's ability to share its resources in the health field with other people.

In my view it is quite inconceivable that there is no flow of WHO information, medical advice and supplies to the 23 million people of Taiwan because of this non-involvement of the World Health Organisation. After all, Taiwan has a population larger than that of 75 per cent of the WHO member states. Taiwan is excluded from the WHO's Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. Through this mechanism, the WHO transmits reports of current outbreaks to, and receives important health data from, public health professionals and global surveillance partners worldwide. This lack of information sharing has had consequences previously, so it is not simply about this issue of the SARS virus. We remember the enterovirus epidemic that struck Taiwan in 1998. It came from Malaysia and infected over 1.8 million Taiwanese people, hospitalised 400, caused the deaths of 80 and resulted in $1 billion in economic losses.

Now the Australian government has made the peculiar Yes, Minister response to Taiwan's exclusion from the WHO, saying that it will consider the admission of Taiwan to the World Health Organisation when there is a consensus on that admission. Surely it is in the interests of a globalised world, in the interests of people who are travelling between Australia and Taiwan on business and as tourists, in the interests of people who are travelling from Taiwan to mainland China and in the interests of all of us that Taiwan has access to the latest health information, particularly how to deal with the SARS virus.

I note that the Chinese government now takes the SARS epidemic and cover-up very seriously. The health minister, Zhang Wenkang, and the Beijing mayor, Meng Xuenong, were both cashiered by the Chinese government for their failure in this SARS outbreak in China. As Mr Lampton, Director of China Studies at Johns Hopkins SAIS and the author of The Politics of Medicine in China in 1977, said in the Wall Street Journal recently:

... Messrs. Hu and Wen have sought to be more populist leaders calling for more social and economic equality and paying more attention to those elements of Chinese society left behind in the last 25 years' rush to riches.

The new leadership in China really has the chance, by tackling China's failure to handle the SARS outbreak, to tackle the health care inequities that underlie China's role in the current crisis. One contribution the new Chinese leadership should initiate is a more open-minded attitude to Taiwan being part of a globalised health system through observer status at the World Health Organisation.