Taiwan’s Health Minister was excluded today from the World Health Assembly in Geneva, despite support from many states, because of its refusal to endorse the One-China principle. The World Health Organisation’s travel budget is greater than some public health emergencies.
Taipei (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China says that the refusal of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to accept the One-China principle is an insurmountable obstacle to Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Assembly (WHA) currently under way in Geneva (Switzerland) until 31 May.
This year Taiwan was not invited to attend the meeting as an observer, usually under the name of Chinese-Taipei (also used in the Olympics), as it has been since 2008.
China’s Health Minister Li Bin said that as long as Taiwan does not accept the One-China principle, it will not participate in the World Health Assembly.
She noted however that Taiwan can still take part in “technical” aspects of World Health Organisation (WHO) work, like cooperation with the mainland in emergency rescue and reporting of communicable-disease epidemics.
Relations across the Taiwan Strait have soured considerably since Tsai took power a year ago, and now they appear to be even more compromised.
Despite China’s veto, Taiwan’s Health Minister came to Geneva anyway, and about a dozen Taiwan allies pushed for the island to be granted access to the assembly – a move that failed. WHO’s director-general Dr Margaret Chan is from Hong Kong and is friendly to Beijing.
To join the United Nations and formally adhere to other international organisations, a territory must be recognised as a sovereign state.
Taiwan and China split after the civil war ended in 1949 and China continues to regard Taiwan as part of its territory, whereas Taiwan’s current ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party, advocates Taiwan’s formal independence as an island nation.
On the sidelines of the Geneva assembly, a controversy has broken out over travel and accommodation expenses by WHO officials.
More than US0 million have been spent a year spent on air tickets and hotels, with some staff breaking budgeting rules by booking business class flights and five-star hotel rooms.
Despite introducing new rules to curb its expansive travel budget, the UN agency has routinely spent far more on travel than it does on fighting some of the biggest problems in public health, this according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
Last year, the US$ 201 million travel budget outstripped top programmes, like AIDS and hepatitis (US$ 71 million), malaria (US$ 61 million), and tuberculosis (US$ 59 million).
Still, some health programmes do get exceptional funding – the agency spends about US$ 450 million trying to wipe out polio every year.
However, when WHO director-general Margaret Chan travelled to West Africa to praise health workers, more than a few eyebrows were raised. She stayed in the biggest presidential suite at the Palm Camayenne hotel in Conakry for more than a thousand US dollars a night.
Earlier, WHO circulated a memorandum to Chan and other top officials with the subject, “ACTIONS TO CONTAIN TRAVEL COSTS” all in capital letters.
“I can’t think of any justification for ever flying first class,” said Dr Ashish Jha, director of the Global Health Institute at Harvard University, who warned that WHO’s travel spending could have significant consequences for fundraising.
Several weeks ago, WHO asked for about US$ 100 million to save people in Somalia from an ongoing drought. In April, it requested US$ 126 million to stop the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen.