World Health Assembly: Taiwan becomes a hot potato again

Down To Earth brings you latest updates from the ongoing session of the World Health Assembly in Geneva

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Tuesday 19 May 2020

Taiwan becomes a hot potato again

Two African countries made a strong pitch on May 19, 2020 for Taiwan to be included as an observer to the World Health Assembly (WHA).

The US Secretary of Health also made a similar demand and chided the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 18, saying it was putting the lives of millions of Taiwanese at risk at the cost of politics.

The Caribbean country of Saint Kitts and Nevis also complimented Taiwan on its handling of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, noting that there had been only 400 cases in the country, with a population of 24 million.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s health minister expressed his country’s full support to China regarding its position on Taiwan’s participation in the WHA on May 19.

The political basis for Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Assembly no longer existed, China had said: “The resolution is serious and authoritative and China does not agree to Taiwan’s participation in this year’s Health assembly. Although the format of this year ’s conference may change, the Chinese government’s position on Taiwan-related issues has not changed at all.” 

Africa community transmission

More than half of African countries were experiencing community transmission even though the number of cases was low, Matshidiso Moeti, the head of WHO’s regional office said.

The continent was short of diagnostic kits, Moeti said. It was a given that health systems were weak in Africa. But whatever systems existed, had been repurposed for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

A few modelling studies of the WHO have warned that 190,000 people could die of COVID-19 in Africa if not controlled.

Iran vs US

Iran’s fight against COVID-19 had been hampered due to unilateral restrictions imposed on the country by the US, the Iranian delegate said at the WHA on May 19. This had impacted the global response too.

Iran also held the United Nations responsible for not asking the US to lift the unilateral restrictions, the delegate said.

Iran had 124,000 cases on May 19 — the tenth-highest in the world.

India on executive board

India, along with 10 other member states, including Botswana, Colombia, Ghana, Guinea- Bissau, Madagascar, Oman, South Korea, Russia and the United Kingdom, has been elected as a new member of the WHO executive board.

The primary function of this board is to implement the decisions of the World Health Assembly.

Resolution adopted

The WHA adopted the resolution moved by more than a hundred countries to evaluate its response to the pandemic. Besides, the resolution also stresses on finding the zoonotic source of the virus, without naming China though.

Diplomatic friction on full display

The diplomatic frictions between countries were on full display on the second and concluding day of the virtual WHA.

In the ‘right to reply’ session of the WHA, quite a few countries exercised their rights to berate others. Russia, for example, expressed surprise at Ukraine’s statement that pandemic response had been severely affected in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine that are occupied by Russia.

“Unfortunately, the ongoing Russian armed aggression makes it impossible for the Ukrainian side to provide assistance to the population therein directly,” Ukraine had said. Rebutting this, Russia said Ukraine was trying to transfer its ‘failure’ on its shoulders.

Three countries — Syria, Iran and Cuba — castigated the United States for its unilateral sanctions on them and and alleged that they were hampering the pandemic response. The US delegate said there were enough “humanitarian exemptions” and the allegations were bogus.

Syria took a second right to reply to quote the 2018 remaeks of UN human rights rapporterus that there existed no such exemptions.

The US-China feud continued unabated. China took the ‘right to reply’ to once again welcome the WHA’s decision of not granting observership status to Taiwan.

It was ‘political height’ on the part of the US and other countries to keep pressing for the same, it said. It remains to seen whether the WHO will grant such a status to Taiwan when the WHA resumes later this year.

WHA suspended

In his closing remarks, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he would initiate an evaluation for all  actors, including the WHO. The WHA was declared suspended by its president Keva Bein, the permanent representative of the Bahamas to the UN in Geneva.

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