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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14840


Mr BARTLETT (1:10 PM) —I rise to speak on Taiwan and the World Health Organisation. Article 1 of the Constitution of the World Health Organisation states one of its key objectives as being:

... the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.

Given that objective, it is most disappointing that time after time Taiwan's bid for observer status at the World Health Organisation has been defeated, as recently as last week, effectively depriving Taiwan's 23 million people of the objectives that should apply to all people that `all peoples should have the highest possible level of health'. This is not a political issue; it is a health and humanitarian issue for Taiwan's 23 million people and for the world more broadly.

There is no reason at all for Taiwan not to be given observer status and, in fact, there is every reason that it should be accorded that status. It has a strong record in taking seriously its own role in improving the health of its own people and health more broadly around the world. Firstly, there is the high standard of health care in Taiwan itself, its commitment to health research and its research into life-saving pharmaceuticals. Secondly, there is its commitment to sharing its resources and its knowledge with other people in need around the world. Between 1995 and 2002, Taiwan spent $120 million in humanitarian and/or medical aid in many countries around the world. It has medical teams working in a number of Third World countries attempting to raise the level of health in those countries. It is actively involved in international programs aimed at the eradication and reduction of a number of diseases—malaria, AIDS, yellow fever and tuberculosis.

The political arguments about statehood are not relevant in this context. The World Health Organisation's constitution talks about the rights of all peoples to the `highest possible level of health'. Observer status has been given to other non-state entities; observer status certainly should be given to Taiwan. Increasingly, international movement around the world means that we are all more susceptible to the international spread of disease. There is no sense at all for a country of 23 million people, especially a country that is such an important economic hub—a hub of trade and travel in the Asian region—to be excluded. The spread of SARS shows what can happen.

It is appalling that Taiwan's report to the World Health Organisation in March received no response until May. They should have been assisted far earlier. Had that happened fewer than 72 deaths from SARS in Taiwan might have been possible. Had that happened the spread to other countries may have been reduced. It is deplorable that it was two months before any assistance was received from the World Health Organisation. There is no guarantee that in the future we might not be subjected to more virulent and more deadly viruses than the SARS virus. For the sake of the people of Taiwan, the people of the Asia-Pacific region and of the world community, we need to have Taiwan granted observer status so that the potential spread of such diseases can be restricted and, indeed, eliminated if possible.

Taiwan's bid for observer status in the World Health Organisation has received widespread and appropriate support from the international community. This has included the European parliament, the US Congress and a number of other national parliaments as well as a number of major professional medical organisations such as the World Medical Association, the British Medical Association, the British Lancet and the International Paediatric Association. These organisations support the inclusion of Taiwan. Let me read comments from a couple of these organisations. In March this year, the US State Department said:

We support the goal of Taiwan's participation in the work of the World Health Organisation, including observer status, and have long worked closely with Taiwan authorities to advance that objective.

In May this year, the 108th Congress of the United States Senate and House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill supporting `Taiwan's appropriate and meaningful participation in the World Health Organisation'. The Council of the European Union working group for the Asia-Pacific region issued the comment that they endorse Taiwan's approach to request the World Health Organisation Director-General for participation in World Health Organisation activities. The European parliament said:

... Taiwan's record in improving health conditions and the life expectancy of its population is impressive. Taiwan should be given the right and opportunity to contribute to and benefit from the work of the World Health Organisation.

For the sake of Taiwan's 23 million people, for the sake of the world community, it is imperative that a way is found for Taiwan to participate in the World Health Organisation. (Time expired)