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Taiwan Excluded From International Health Meetings

Taiwan warns the international community could be at heightened risk from diseases such as avian influenza because it is prevented from attending meetings on important health issues because of pressure from China. Taiwan says it will try to alert the international community of this potential threat during the World Health Organization 's Executive Committee meeting, which begins Monday in Geneva. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA.

The Chinese Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2005. Taiwanese officials say under that agreement, all health-related issues concerning Taiwan must be communicated to China, which then informs Taiwan. They say this cumbersome bureaucratic process can take up to a month.

By then, Taiwan's chief medical officer says it may be too late. The president of the Foundation of Medical Professionals Alliance in Taiwan, Wu Shu-Min is in Geneva to alert the international community of the threats posed by keeping Taiwan sidelined from global health issues.

He tells VOA this is a health rights and security issue, not a political issue.

"We know if we continue to go through this kind of channel, something is going to happen, especially now with avian flu, it is really quite imminent to happen. So, that this reporting system has to be very, very clear and open. As a result of this MOU [memorandum of understanding], there are a lot of technical meetings related to avian flu we were not able to attend," he said.

China considers Taiwan a renegade province. Dr. Wu says China's insistence that WHO should not directly contact Taipei can have serious consequences.

As an example, he notes in September Taiwan imported baby corn from Thailand that might have had a bacterial infection that causes gastro-intestinal disease. But, he says China did not tell Taiwan of this until 10 days after it had been informed by WHO.

He says Taiwan had a lucky escape because the imported corn was not infected. Next time, he adds, Taiwan might not be so lucky.

He says if Taiwan is not informed of a disease threat in a timely manner, it will not be able to take action that could prevent the disease from spreading to other countries.

"So, if something happens in the future, it is going to be very quickly spread out to other countries, especially neighboring countries. But, with world travel is so frequent. It is really affecting wherever we have direct flights or have a direct influence on that. I think international community will suffer by not helping Taiwan."

Dr. Wu says Taiwan has a population of 23 million people. When it comes to matters of health, he says the international community ignores Taiwan at its own peril.