U.S. to discuss WHO alternatives with Taiwan: U.S. health official

08/10/2020 09:10 PM
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U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar greets Health Minister Chen Shih-chung ahead of Monday
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar greets Health Minister Chen Shih-chung ahead of Monday's press conference/ CNA photo Aug. 10, 2020

Taipei, Aug. 10 (CNA) The United States will talk with Taiwan and other global partners about "appropriate vehicles" to continue U.S. support for global public health after it officially withdraws from the World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Monday.

During a press conference in Taipei, Azar said President Donald Trump announced the U.S.'s withdrawal from the WHO "out of the frustration that the WHO seemed unable and unwilling to reform itself to ensure objective transparent behavior by member states."

Azar said the U.S. has always been and will remain the largest funder of global public health in the world despite the withdrawal decision, which goes into effect in July 2021.

"After our departure from the WHO, we will work with others in the world community to find the appropriate vehicles for continuing to support on a multilateral and bilateral basis global public health on the order that the U.S. has done in the past," he stressed.

"We will of course talk to Taiwan and other entities as we go forward," he said, when asked by a reporter if Taiwan, which has not been invited to the World Health Assembly, the WHO's decision-making body, since 2017 could join if the U.S. forms a new international health organization following its exit from the WHO.

Whether the U.S. actually pulls out of the WHO remains a big question mark. Trump's opponent in the November 2020 U.S. presidential election vowed in early July to reverse the Trump's WHO withdrawal if he is elected.

Azar was speaking at Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) in Taipei after he and his Taiwanese counterpart Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) witnessed the signing of a bilateral memorandum of understanding (MOU) on health cooperation.

The MOU allows the two sides to strengthen their existing cooperation and collaboration on health-related issues, the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto American embassy in Taiwan, said in a press release.

Asked if the signing of the MOU will give Taiwan easier access to vaccines for COVID-19, Azar said the U.S. is now speeding up its research and development of vaccines and therapeutics under the Trump administration's "Warp Speed" initiative.

"Our first priority of course is to develop and produce enough quantity of safe and effective FDA-approved vaccines and therapeutics for use in the U.S.," he said.

"But we anticipate having capacity that once those needs are satisfied, those products will be available in the world community according to fair and equitable distributions that we will consult the international community on," he said, without elaborating.

Azar and his delegation arrived in Taiwan on Sunday. The visit is the first trip to Taiwan made by a U.S. Cabinet-level official since 2014.

His visit is also being billed by the U.S. as the highest-level visit by an American Cabinet official since the break in formal diplomatic relations between Washington and Taipei in 1979 because of the health secretary's rank in order of succession to the U.S. president.

The health secretary is 12th in the order of succession. The highest ranking visit by a Cabinet official previously was by a transportation secretary, ranked 14th in the order of succession, in 2000.

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy visited Taiwan in 2014.

Asked about the significance of his visit, Azar said the trip "represents an acknowledgment of the U.S. and Taiwan's deep friendship and partnership across security, economic, health care, and democratic, open transparent values."

Praising Taiwan as a model "of transparent, collaborative, cooperative public health and information sharing" amid COVID-19, "it is critical that we support and recognize those who share those values in transparency in health care," he said.

Azar is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) on Tuesday morning before delivering an address at National Taiwan University's Public Health College in the afternoon.

The AIT has not made public Azar's full itinerary nor has it disclosed when the delegation will leave Taiwan.

(By Joseph Yeh)

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