Taiwanese anti-tobacco delegates blocked from joining the 17th WCTOH due to political interference from the WHO

Corresponding author: Wayne Gao, Taipei Medical University

Editor’s note: Comment was sought from the conference secretariat but none was received.

We, registered NGO delegates from Taiwan to the 17th WCTOH in Cape Town, South Africa, were blocked from attending the World Conference. In addition, all peer-reviewed accepted scientific posters/presentations from Taiwan were first removed, and then some rescheduled to non official hours after protest. This undeserved treatment of the Taiwanese tobacco control delegates – non-governmental individuals who had, in good faith, paid not only the registration fee but the flights and accommodations in Cape Town – was due to political interference by the World Health Organization (WHO). We were told that the WHO, acceding to Chinese government demands, signed a sponsorship agreement with the International Union of Lung Diseases and Tuberculosis – the WCTOH secretariat – specifying that no participants from Taiwan should be allowed to attend the Conference. Taiwan is a successful democracy with a thriving economy and stands ready to contribute to and share its experiences with global tobacco control colleagues. In all previous WCTOH, Taiwan’s participation and contributions to the Conference were always welcomed by liberal democratic allies and the civil society.

We wish to express our anger for this unacceptable political interference at an important civil society event in global tobacco control. Blocking the legitimate Taiwanese delegates from the WCTOH, violates the guiding principles of the WHO FCTC which emphasize the special contribution of civil society and recognize the participation of NGOs as essential to achieve the objectives of the FCTC and to counter tobacco industry’s interference. Allowing WHO and authoritarian governments to dictate who can attend a civilian conference in tobacco control is a huge setback to democratic values, and to the right to health and full civic participation in global tobacco control. The WCTOH should be entirely civilian-oriented, free from political interference.

The independence of civil society has been compromised this time. We urge WHO and the WCTOH secretariat to commit to political neutrality regarding civil society’s participation at a NGO event. Episodes like this must not happen again. We believe that it is necessary to condemn this action, because when basic civil human rights are violated, nobody really wins as “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  ― Martin Luther King Jr.

Your supports and comments are appreciated.

On behalf of all delegates to the 17th WCTOH from Taiwan:

Dr. Wayne Gao, Taipei Medical University

Dr. Mattia Sanna, Taipei Medical University

Dr. Chih Kuan, Lai, Veterans General Hospital

Dr. Chi Pang Wen, National Health Research Institute (a non-profit research organization)

Correspondent: waynegao@tmu.edu.tw