Taiwan Excluded as World Health Assembly Opening Focuses on Pandemic Preparedness, and Funding
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO.

The 76th World Health Assembly turned political even before formal the proceedings began, with the decision to exclude Taiwan. 

The island was seeking an observer status, something that it had held previously between 2009 and 2016, with the support of the United States and others.

But its inclusion was strongly opposed by China which maintains the island is its province and not an independent country. Pakistan backed China’s right to territorial integrity. The two countries said they did not object to the inclusion of experts from Taiwan in technical meetings and exchanges related to pandemic preparedness.

As Taiwan’s bid failed, Dr Jui-Yuan Hsueh, Taiwan’s Minister of Health and Welfare, said the call was taken by WHA due to political considerations and pressure from China.

In his keynote address, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus listed the key priority for this year’s assembly, urging countries to work towards WHO’s triple billion targets and pick up the pace on achieving the health-related sustainable development goals (SGDs). 

Tedros also said the pandemic accord that the WHA will be negotiating this year will be an important step for future preparedness and requested countries to engage with the process. 

But Taiwan’s exclusion will have an impact on the pandemic accord, according to Health Minister Hsueh: “Without WHO membership, Taiwan is also unable to provide various surveillance data to the global influenza surveillance and the response system, which could alert the world to the next pandemic. Taiwan is willing and it should also be included in the pandemic accord that is under negotiation,”.

Tedros also made it clear that finding ways to fund the various programmes of the WHO will be a priority. 

Despite South Asia currently being under another intense heatwave second year in a row, climate change was mentioned only briefly by Tedros. 

With COVID-19 no longer an official global health emergency, polio remains the only one global emergency. 

“After an all-time low of five wild poliovirus cases in 2021, we saw an increase last year, with 20 cases in Pakistan, two in Afghanistan and eight in Mozambique,” he said, adding that WHO is committed to polio eradication. 

“Last year, three million children previously inaccessible in Afghanistan received polio vaccines for the first time. And in October, donors pledged US$2.6 billion to support the push for eradication,” he said. 

Tedros also mentioned the work being done to roll out new vaccines for tuberculosis as quickly as possible. “It was done for COVID; it can be done for TB,” he said.  

He also acknowledged the need to bolster disaster response and funding, appealing to member countries to support funding efforts in 2024 so the health body was in the best possible shape to respond.

In discussions, members drew attention to multiple emergencies in the Horn of Africa, Palestine, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen, among others.

Additional reporting by Megha Kaveri


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