Jin-Ling Chen is the director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Toronto.
The COVID-19 pandemic has cast a shadow over the world for more than two years, and Taiwan, like most countries, is still fighting against the virus. But at this challenging time, many in Taiwan have been moved by the spirit of Rev. George Leslie Mackay, a great Canadian missionary who moved to the island in 1871 and, by providing much help all those years ago, has become one of its national heroes.
Born and raised in southwestern Ontario’s Oxford County, Father Mackay spent much of his lifetime on an island tens of thousands of miles away from his hometown. As the first Presbyterian missionary to Taiwan, he introduced the concepts and practices of public health care, female education and Christianity to its people. After settling and starting a family there, Father Mackay also practised dentistry and built a clinic, a middle school and a boarding school for girls. He was a staunch advocate for women’s rights, constantly spoke out against discrimination and fought for equality and human dignity.
Today, Taiwan is a shining example of the values that he promoted vigorously. It is a beacon of democracy, pluralism and freedom. More importantly, built upon the foundation of Father Mackay’s medical contributions, Taiwan has transformed into one of the most medically advanced countries in the world.
That has paid off in the global fight against COVID-19. Taiwan’s combination of cutting-edge digital technology, robust detection and response systems, and targeted government-civilian co-operation has created a “Taiwan model” that is fast, pro-active, transparent and communicative. It combines the many strengths of Taiwanese society.
The achievements have also won international recognition. In 2022, Taiwan topped the global database Numbeo’s Health Care Index for the fourth year. In January, Bloomberg’s COVID Resilience Ranking placed Taiwan eighth in the world, on the basis of vaccine coverage rates, cross-border virus control and overall health care quality.
However, the World Health Organization, the most important international organization leading the development of global public health, continues to exclude Taiwan because of seemingly political considerations. This seriously jeopardizes global health security.
What’s worse is that the WHO continues to isolate Taiwan even though the country has proved that it is willing to help the international community. When Canada found itself in urgent need of personal protective equipment, the Taiwan government and the diaspora in Canada donated more than 2.25 million masks, respirators and other equipment; many donors made special mention of their gratitude to Father Mackay.
Moreover, besides being a significant part of the critical medical supply chain, Taiwan has also leveraged medical research and development strength to contribute to global anti-pandemic efforts. For example, Taiwan is actively developing COVID-19 antiviral drug candidates. One of Taiwan’s domestically produced vaccines has already been granted emergency use and production authorization, and is now recognized by several countries including Belize, Estonia, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Palau, Paraguay and Thailand.
The unresolved pandemic highlights the importance and necessity of international co-operation to face the virus challenge. In the past two years, Taiwan’s epidemic-prevention performance and its assistance and co-operation with countries worldwide – which has included the donation of medical supplies to Ukraine – have also demonstrated that the country is a force for good. It is able and willing to join other nations to deal with various public-health issues, and can be an indispensable partner on the path to global postpandemic recovery.
One hundred fifty years ago, a son of Canada helped to lay the foundation for Taiwan’s modern medical care system. Today, the island needs even more help from Canada. We ask that Canada publicly speak out in support of Taiwan’s participation as an observer at the World Health Assembly this year. By allowing Taiwan to join all WHO meetings, activities and mechanisms, the WHA will help safeguard the health and medical rights of the island’s 23.5 million people.
It would be the best way to celebrate the values of philanthropy, humanity and equality that Father Mackay lived out in Taiwan – values that his birthplace and his adopted home share to this day.
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