Thursday, May 17, 2007

Behind the red veil in Beijing

As many readers will probably know by now, Taiwan’s application for membership at the World Health Organization (WHO) was dropped for the 11th strait time on Monday, mostly as a result of Beijing’s insistence that Taiwan is one of its provinces and that WHO membership can only be conferred on states recognized by the UN General Assembly.

In an article published today in the Taipei Times I argue that states must look beyond politics on international health issues and recognize that the fate of the planet’s 6.5 billion people should not rest in the hands of decision-makers in Beijing, who cannot even make the health of their own citizens a priority — except, as in 2003, when the SARS outbreak had reached such proportions as to threaten social stability and the economy. In other words, when it is too late. After dawdling for months, the central government shifted gear and mobilized its resources to contain the epidemic — and in all fairness it did so rather successfully, albeit using mass quarantine tactics that far exceeded (as only totalitarian state can) guidelines on the matter and may even have included dissidents. And while there were reasons for optimism during the months following the SARS outbreak that the lessons learned would have long-term repercussions on how China deals with its epidemics — including its very serious AIDS problem — recent analysis has shown that soon thereafter Beijing returned to normal business, as if SARS had not occurred.

This, above anything else, once again serves to prove that under normal circumstances, Beijing cannot be counted on to act as a responsible global citizen. And the fact of the matter is, epidemics and pandemics first emerge under normal circumstances. Absent a rigorous monitoring and reporting health system, and openness in the media — in other words, under the system China soon fell back into after SARS — the next epidemic will not immediately be detected, and by the time global resources are mobilized, it may be to late to prevent a pandemic.

If they stay the course, politicians in the rest of the world, I conclude, could wake up one day and realize that all their efforts to curry favor with Beijing and win the next big business deal were in vain, as they will have a major pandemic on their hands.

Enough said. Readers can access the full article by clicking here.

1 comment:

hyc said...

I just found this blog today. Well said! It baffles my mind that people would/could politicize a health issue and call it reasonable. SARS began in China, and was effectively covered up for months. I also have a suspicion that bird flu began there. If you go back to a history of reported cases, you'll find bird flu "jumped" from Vietnam to S. Korea. Why WHO did not question the lack of incidence in China at the time makes me think they're trying very hard not to displease the PRC. But it is just my observation of the events at the time. I didn't conduct an extensive research.

Thank you for your observations and writing! Finally someone who writes from an unbiased viewpoint!