To be sure, Taiwan was finally allowed to participate in a WHO coronavirus forum—albeit in an online capacity—in February 2020. It remains unclear whether this will have any impact on EU governments’ support for Taiwan’s participation in WHO.
Is it time for the EU to make a stronger push for Taiwan’s participation in the WHO?
European nations have evidently taken note of Taiwan’s successes in curbing the cases of the coronavirus outbreak in Taiwan. This should be reflected in the EU’s actions. For its own sake, European nations (or EU as a whole) should aim to reach a consultation and cooperation agreement with Taiwan, perhaps similar to the one declared on March 18 in the U.S.-Taiwan Joint Statement by the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT)—the U.S. de facto embassy in Taiwan.
The EU has just launched a dialogue with Taiwan’s Academia Sinica to explore possible avenues for cooperation, including the development of a rapid diagnostic test and a vaccine. This is certainly a step in the right direction. But considering the current state of the pandemic, this dialogue is long overdue and—considering the possibility of a second wave and the probability of another pandemic in the future—a necessity.
A key takeaway from this global emergency is that early warning and preparedness matters—and ultimately saves lives. When signs of an epidemic began appearing within China, Taiwan was quick to pick up on those cues and implemented health screening of visitors from Wuhan and then closed its borders to the rest of China early on. It even warned the WHO when it first learned of COVID-19 human-to-human transmissions, but to no avail. Taiwan of course does not have the luxury of waiting for the international health body’s instructions to shape its response—and this perhaps helped in a paradoxical way to encourage the government’s proactive approach.
The international community must ensure that no nation, especially one with the potential of becoming a key partner in curbing future epidemics is secluded from the global health community.
As European countries and the United States scramble to implement effective protective measures and mitigate the impact of the pandemic, they should also begin exploring options that ensure that Taiwan plays a role in the next global health emergency response—whether it is as part of the WHO or another framework. Taiwan has repeatedly shown that it is willing to share its best practices (take, for example, the Global Cooperation and Training Framework framework)—all the international community needs to do is allow its international participation.
As the international community thinks about how to counter future pandemics more effectively, there are important lessons we can all learn from Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 for a country and population of its size. Taiwan’s experience with previous pandemics, such as SARS and avian flus, is worthy of emulation. It informed a rapid whole-of-government response that included a domestic public education campaign with daily press conferences to ensure a well-informed public. This is essential for priming the society and forming the backbone of a vigilant public response. In the era of viral pandemics, a well-informed public is all the more critical to mitigate the effects of a pandemic.
There appears to be greater public awareness about Taiwan’s exclusion from the WHO as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether that greater public awareness will translate to an increased number of governments supporting Taiwan’s inclusion into the WHO remains to be seen. At the very least, it should raise Taiwan’s international standing in the eyes of the public. It’s worth pointing out as well that Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 has earned high-marks and recognition from the international community—especially the United States. Finally, Washington and Taipei have recently announced a partnership to share best practices and cooperate to combat COVID-19. This is a model that other countries could and should adopt with respect to Taiwan.
Katherine Schultz is the research associate and Russell Hsiao is the executive director at the Global Taiwan Institute (www.globaltaiwan.org) in Washington, DC. Image: Reuters