Editors note: The joint statement below is from delegates from Taiwan who were excluded from the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health, held in Cape Town, South Africa from 7-9 March. Comment was sought from the conference secretariat; the full list of questions put to them, and their response, are at the end of this article.
Statement from Taiwanese delegates:
Correspondent firstname.lastname@example.org, on behalf of all delegates to the 17th WCTOH from Taiwan: Dr. Wayne Gao, Taipei Medical University, Dr. Chi Pang Wen, National Health Research Institute, Dr. Chih Kuan, Lai, Veterans General Hospital, Dr. Mattia Sanna, Taipei Medical University
On the last day of the World Conference, we asked the conference secretariat for an explanation and justification of the revocation of Taiwanese delegates’ conference registration. The executive director of International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (the Union), Jose Castro, agreed to take the issue to the organizing committee of the conference.
We made our requests very clear:
1. Transparency about WHO technical sponsorship with the Union regarding the participation exclusion:
We were told by Union staff that due to a signed technical sponsorship agreement with the WHO, Taiwan’s confirmed delegation was excluded from attending the conference, despite our registration fees having been accepted when registering well before the conference started. As a result, all of our posters were removed. After we protested, these were rescheduled to informal satellite sessions, for which we did not sign up. We requested for normal and open participation in the 17th WCTOH as has always been the case for Taiwanese delegates in all previous WCTOHs. We have requested to see the content of the WHO sponsorship agreement that led to our exclusion. We believe that if such an agreement exists, it would be a violation of both civil independence and the goal of uniting the world to fight against tobacco use. Such an agreement must be exposed. It should also be noted that we were told by Union staff members that Chinese government delegates to the WCTOH complained about seeing participants from Taiwan who came to report and share their tobacco control works. A Chinese officer called Geneva and asked WHO to intervene. We are waiting for this information to be confirmed by the secretariat and are open to modifying our statement should this information not be accurate.
2. The personal information about all conference participants from Taiwan, including an Italian colleague –Dr. Mattia Sanna, was changed by the conference secretariat without any consultation with us. We strongly requested that all personal information in posters, presentations, the list of participants, and other documents to be restored to what was listed on the conference registration application. The conference secretariat has absolutely no right to determine or change our personal information, and we find this extremely disrespectful.
3. A full refund of registration fees and the costs of flights, and accommodation should be issued immediately to all Taiwanese participants who were blocked during the entire conference in Cape Town.
4. If this financial compensation is agreed, we will donate all the compensation to the tobacco control programs in China supported by the Union. The Union is one of the main partners of the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use. It has supported many substantial and effective tobacco control programs in China over these years. Despite this incident, as Taiwanese tobacco control colleagues, we recognize their critical role in tobacco control in China, which is well-known as the epicenter of the global smoking endemic. Taiwan’s John Tung Foundation, a veteran NGO fighting tobacco use/industry for 34 years, has been sharing tobacco control experience with Chinese tobacco control colleagues. We would like to maintain this fruitful and warm civilian collaboration despite the recent political turbulence at the 17th WCTOH.
The exclusion of genuine tobacco control advocates, researchers and staff from the WCTOH due to political differences must not happen again. As the world’s largest tobacco control event, the WCTOH must remain civilian- and science-oriented and open to all tobacco control workers, with the obvious exception of the tobacco industry and its affiliates. The prevention, control and eventual eradication of tobacco use rely on global solidarity, not political division. The WCTOH should be an occasion to enhance our international collaboration on issues such as transnational smuggling and should accelerate our efforts towards a smoke-free world by learning from, sharing with and challenging each other.
Comment from the WCTOH conference secretariat:
The following questions were put to the conference secretariat regarding the exclusion of Taiwanese delegates by the News Editor of Tobacco Control:
1. Can you clarify the nature of the exclusion? My understanding is that their accepted posters were removed, one oral presentation was moved to a non-official timeslot, and they were prevented from attending with their blank name badges, on which they had handwritten Taiwan.
2. For what reason(s) were the delegates excluded?
3. Why was this WCTOH different to previous events where Taiwanese delegates were able to participate?
4. When was the decision made to exclude the delegates? I note that invitation letters to participants, showing their nationality as Taiwanese were issued on 25 January, and their posters were displayed at the venue before being removed.
5. Will the delegates be fully reimbursed for all costs incurred to attend the conference and/or otherwise compensated?
6. Will delegates from Taiwan be excluded from future WCTOH events? If not, what measures will be taken to ensure this incident is not repeated? If the intention is to exclude them, on what basis?
The following statement was provided by the conference secretariat in response:
The World Conference on Tobacco or Health 2018 is an event co-sponsored by WHO and the WHO FCTC Secretariat. As such the organizers are bound to follow their respective policies concerning the status and representation of States and territories. Similar policies are applied for other meetings co-sponsored by WHO. In order to comply with those policies it has been necessary to adjust the type of registration available. When doing final checks prior to the start of the conference we found there were some participants whose registrations did not comply with these requirements. The participants concerned were duly informed by the conference and offered to present their posters and abstracts at satellite sessions which were very well attended throughout the conference. Additionally, the conference organizers will also offer full refund under certain conditions to the affected participants.