World: The World Medical Association, a group of doctors representing 10 million practitioners across the globe has criticized the World Health Organization for partaking in “political games” by excluding Taiwan.

The WMA stated that it was the inability of WHO to pay attention to Taiwan’s early warnings that has caused “errors that led to the world paying a high price” in the 2003 SARS outbreak as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. It urged WHO to provide increased participation to Taiwan and take notice of its insights in the future.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated with terrible consequences how wrong and damaging for global health it is to exclude Taiwan from unrestricted and effective participation in the World Health Organization,” WMA leaders wrote in a letter to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General, WHO.

Taiwan’s experience has been a rare positive example of how governments can contain the spread of the new coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19. As of April 9, Taiwan had 380 confirmed cases and 5 deaths, a stunningly low number for a population of 23.6 million. This is particularly impressive given the high level of travel between China and Taiwan.

Taiwan’s success should be attributed to early preparedness, health expertise, government competence, and popular alertness. On December 31, Taiwan’s government, alarmed by developments in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus first appeared, expressed concerns to the World Health Organization (WHO) about the virus’s potential for human-to-human transmission. But it received no reply. Instead, the WHO endorsed China’s denial of human-to-human transmission until January 21. While the WHO appeared to downplay the global threat, Taiwan adopted vigorous measures for screening, testing, contact tracing, and enforcing quarantines. These measures were aided by technology and big data, as well as the cooperation of citizens who remain highly vigilant due to their traumatic 2003 experience with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Particularly important in Taiwan’s approach are transparency and open information. Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center, established after SARS, releases information in daily briefings. This starkly contrasts with China’s initial cover-ups of the outbreak and its continued suppression of independent reporting.

Taiwan is excluded from the WHO because China – which considers Taiwan to be its territory – insists that other countries and international organisations not accord Taiwan the treatment that is reserved for independent states only.

Taiwan has alleged that the WHO disregarded its early warnings that the virus might spread among humans and accused it of harbouring a pro-China bias. It has also stated that it has been denied the “observer status” at the yearly meeting of decision makers since 2018.

The criticism by the WMA came soon after Donald Trump’s decision to cut funding from WHO.The US President accused the UN body of “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus”.

The WHO has been at the receiving end of the criticism, despite there being disapproval of Trump’s decision to cut funding from the body. The US chapter of the WMA was among the first to condemn Trump’s decision terming it a “dangerous move” and urged for international cooperation amid the pandemic.

Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet medical journal, said that the decision to cut funding from WHO is “a crime against humanity”.

“Every scientist, every health worker, every citizen must resist and rebel against this appalling betrayal of global solidarity,” he tweeted.

China has, meanwhile, accused Taiwan of using the coronavirus pandemic to gain independence.