#WHA70’s Opening Day: Not Quite All Together

GENEVA – The 70th World Health Assembly opened with celebratory statements of the joint global effort to improve health. One opening speaker even quoted Alexandre Dumas’s Three Musketeers: “One for all and all for one!”

While the meeting kicked off in that spirit, things went south pretty quickly. The routine selection of the president of the Assembly president drew an angry response from the Ukrainian delegation. When Veronika Skvortsova, Russia’s Minister of Health, was nominated for the position, Ukraine’s delegate rejected the proposal because of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

“The representative of the Russian Federation whose country is waging a war against Ukraine does not have the moral authority to chair the assembly of an organization that aims to protect lives and implement standards embodied by the Hippocratic oath and the United Nations charter,” the Ukraine representative said.

Apparently knowing Skvortsova’s election would proceed despite her comments, Ukraine's representative said she wanted her statement added to the Assembly’s official record.

Skvortsova was elected by acclamation.

The next contentious issue quickly followed. Taiwan had requested to be given observer status at the Assembly as it had from 2009 to 2016. China opposed the idea this year, but the issue reached the Assembly this morning for debate. China holds that Taiwan is part of it and thus should not be given separate status. Acknowledging Taiwan’s observer status in previous World Health Assemblies, China’s representative said his country’s support for that position was “not there any more.” Cuba spoke in support of China.

Advocating for Taiwan were St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Pacific island nation of Palau. “Health is a basic human right regardless of politics, region or sex,” Palau’s representative said. “Why can I sit in the World Health Assembly representing the 17,000 people [of Palau] and why do we ignore the 23 million people in Taiwan? Why was it acceptable for Taiwan to be an observer for 8 years and not this year?”

After the discussion, Skvortsova noted that the General Committee recommended Taiwan not be invited as an observer. When she said she assumed the Assembly agreed with this, there was no vocal opposition. Taiwan’s bid was rejected.

The Assembly applauded the decision. China’s delegation clapped especially loudly.

Ed. Note: See all of GHN’s #WHA70 coverage here.

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