Reform, Don’t Undermine, the WHO

While the COVID-19 menace continues to present a threat to global health on a scale not seen in generations, President Donald Trump has suspended U.S. funding for the World Health Organization and even mused about establishing a rival body.

The U.S. is the largest contributor to the WHO, normally providing nearly half a billion dollars per year or about 20% of the total budget. Trump said that before deciding whether to resume allocations, the U.S. government would conduct a review of what he called WHO’s “role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of coronavirus” in the early stages of the pandemic.

AmCham Taipei has been critical of WHO in the past, particularly its hands-off approach to Taiwan. WHO is a specialized agency under the United Nations, and Taiwan lost its seat in the UN when China was admitted in 1971. Full-fledged membership for Taiwan in the WHO may therefore be too much to expect. But the only reason for the WHO to exclude Taiwan from even observer status and critical access to information channels on public health issues is political expediency in deferring to pressure from China.  

Despite AmCham’s dissatisfaction with the WHO’s policy toward Taiwan, however, we question the Trump administration’s rash decision to cut off funding for the organization in the middle of a global crisis. Deficiencies in the WHO should be spotlighted and corrected, including its treatment of Taiwan, but this is not the time to undermine its ability to operate.

Although Taiwan possessed the professional expertise and resources to respond to the pandemic swiftly and competently, many countries in the world are not so fortunate. Depriving them of potential assistance during this critical period is not only callous, it is short-sighted.  

The same argument applies both to maintaining WHO’s funding and to finding a way to overcome the communication gap between the WHO and Taiwan. Contagious disease does not respect national borders. Leaving any part of the world unprepared to respond to potential epidemics constitutes a direct threat to the rest of the globe.

At the same time as the WHO has come in for widespread criticism (not only from President Trump) for its slowness and lack of transparency in responding to early warnings of a severe epidemic in Wuhan, Taiwan has received well-deserved praise in the international community for its success in curbing domestic spread of the contagion. It has also won considerable good will by donating large quantities of protective equipment to other countries.

What’s more, with its excellent national healthcare system, talented medical researchers, and fast-developing biomedical industries, Taiwan is in a strong position to contribute to international efforts to enhance global public health.

We encourage the U.S. to continue its call for the WHO to provide Taiwan with some form of meaningful participation, and we hope that in the wake of the coronavirus challenge more countries will support that effort. As the World Health Organization, WHO’s responsibility should be to cover the healthcare interests of every part of the globe.