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WHO Rules Out Taiwan as Member

Visiting WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook said Monday his "simple and clear-cut conclusion" is that China's membership in the World Health Organization is paramount, and Taiwan is not welcome as a separate player in the organization.

"This is also a position that I will stick to in the future," he said on his first visit to China as the WHO's director-general.

Lee spoke after Gao Qiang, China's executive vice-minister of health, expressed concerns over the Taiwan authority trying to join WHO independently after being turned down for seven years.

Gao said the Taiwan authority's goal is explicitly political, noting that officials on the Chinese island province have been lobbying for it to become a member, whether officially or an observer.

"What concerns the Taiwan authority is not the health issue, but the political issue. WHO should not become a political stage," Gao indicated.

He said the Chinese government considers the well-being and health of Taiwan's people important, and has adopted a positive attitude in regard to supporting Taiwan experts in WHO meetings in the aftermath of SARS.

The mainland welcomes Taiwan experts to attend the World Health Assembly next month, he said.

Lee and Gao also pledged during their meeting to increase cooperation.

Although he does not believe the battles against SARS and avian flu have ended, Lee said he was quite impressed by China's quick control of the two diseases.

He said the "extraordinary achievements" have given him confidence in view of the campaign China is waging against AIDS.

China has displayed remarkable capacity to improve the situation, once it realizes the necessity, and top leadership is displaying interest in the fight, he said.

Gao applauded the move by the WHO to ensure "available medicines at affordable prices for AIDS patients," saying China welcomes the WHO's help.

According to Gao, the biggest problem for China in its fight lies not in related policies or financial support, but the effectiveness of the medicines involved, because the government has policies to allow access to AIDS medicine for poverty-stricken rural patients and allocated special funds to support the cause. Unfortunately, the side effects of current therapies are hard to overcome.

Vomiting and headaches are the most prominent side effects, and China is in need of the WHO's help for better therapies, he said.

China has an estimated 850,000 HIV carriers.

Lee noted that the WHO and China can cooperate effectively not only in related medicines but also in diagnosis and treatment.

The two officials discussed the planned revision of the World Health Regulation, which will promote more efficient international cooperation in dealing with contagious diseases.

Gao said the revision should take into consideration the different situations of different countries, because otherwise the implementation of the regulation may freeze out less-developed nations.

(China Daily April 20, 2004)

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