As the COVID-19 epidemic unfolds, history is repeating itself in Taiwan. Still denied membership of the World Health Organization (WHO) and therefore participation in international decisions, Taiwan could again experience a disproportionate number of deaths, as it did during the 2003 SARS epidemic (see Nature 422, 652; 2003). Taiwan needs help and, in turn, the WHO has everything to gain from allowing it to join in the fight against this crisis.
The COVID-19 epidemic calls for a response consistent with the principles of the WHO (see go.nature.com/2tbgqrd). In my view, Taiwan’s alienation is an inexcusable liability for global health. Its health-care system is ranked first in the world by NUMBEO (see go.nature.com/2wbqckc). Its researchers identified receptor-binding proteins of the 2003 SARS virus (see go.nature.com/3cqqn82), established animal models for testing vaccines against it, and are now pursuing vaccine research and development against COVID-19.
Taiwan is separated from mainland China by a mere strait, across which thousands travelled to Taiwan every day until Taiwan imposed entry restrictions last month because of the epidemic. The WHO should look again at its exclusion of Taiwan. There is no place for political disputes when millions of lives are at stake.