In November 2002, the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), originating in Southern China, recorded 8098 cases and claimed 774 lives worldwide, including 73 deaths in Taiwan, the third highest toll next to mainland China and Hong Kong.
When SARS broke out, due to international politics involving China, Taiwan was deprived of direct access to first-hand medical information and got no medical assistance from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Taiwan had to fight the disease alone.
It is fair to say that, if WHO had put politics aside in face of the threat of SARS, many Taiwanese could have been saved.
Needless to say, when WHO chose to leave Taiwan out of the global network, it created a loophole in containing the spread of virus and posed a grave threat to the health for all.
Taiwan is located at a strategic node as well as a flight hub where Northeast Asia meets Southeast Asia. People and goods are constantly entering and leaving Taiwan.
18 recorded cases
Before the outbreak of coronavirus, there are nearly 600 direct flights per week between Taiwan and China. Even though Taiwan adopted all necessary precautions at the onset of the outbreak of coronavirus, there are still 18 recorded cases.
When people are now reflecting on what lessons we can learn from the previous SARS tragedy, to redress the mistake of putting Taiwan on the sidelines should be one of them.
Taiwan an independent country
Some may argue that Taiwan has been represented by China in WHO. However, the simple reality is that Taiwan is never part of the PRC. Taiwan is not under China’s jurisdiction. Taiwan’s health and China’s are administered by separate and independent authorities.
Diseases do not discriminate, nor do they know national boundaries.
Coronavirus, SARS and measles are just few of the many vivid examples. If the motto of the WHO is “health for all” and “leaving no one behind,” I regret to point out that the 23 million Taiwanese people are certainly not treated that way.
It is undeniable that the exclusion of Taiwan from WHO creates dangerous loopholes in global disease prevention system. To combat the coronavirus epidemic (COVID-19), we cannot afford to have Taiwan left out again.
Liu Yeong-Jainn is Director-General of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office based in Auckland.