Make Health a Government Priority

Make Health a Government Priority

               By King Chwan-Chuen 金傳春 
Monday, Dec 01, 2008, Taipei Times Page 8

   In a debate during this year’s US presidential election campaign, senators Barack Obama and John McCain were asked whether they regarded health as a right, responsibility or form of social justice. The two gave different answers. McCain said he thought health was the irrefutable responsibility of the government, while Obama quickly responded by saying that health is a right that all people should have.

  Regardless of whether health is a right, responsibility or a form of social justice, the government’s actions are extremely important in issues related to public health. I was happy to hear that Obama was elected as president and that the US finally has a leader that cares about health. Health resources are unevenly distributed in the US and this poses a great threat to the health of US citizens. This is a great time and opportunity for change, especially for a health care system that needs thorough reform.  
  Public health professionals in developed nations believe that health is a “right” that everyone should have regardless of age, gender, race or wealth and is something that needs to be planned by government leaders with forward-looking policies.  
  When the H5N1 avian influenza virus started to spread across the world, many European countries collaborated on virologic surveillance and epidemiologic investigation. They actually worked even harder at containing the virus than Asian countries affected by H5N1. This shows that people, businesses and government officials in Asian nations really need to think deeply about how they view the importance of health.  
  We cannot ignore the fact that to this day, cigarettes that are so harmful to health are still sold on international flights in and out of Taiwan every day. This implies that a minority of business leaders, who have the knowledge and capability to help improve health standards in Taiwan, have not paid more attention to business ethics and are doing nothing to improve the health of citizens.  
  Especially now that we have a national health insurance system, the health problems of individuals can become the common burden of every taxpayer in our society. Health care resources should be allocated to those who need them most and should not be abused or taken for granted.  
  Moreover, Taiwan still has countless numbers of “betel nut beauties” who sell betel nut along the provincial highways. Betel nut chewing can cause oral cancer, which places a burden on our medical system. 
  In terms of protecting the right to health, the above examples show that people in Taiwan should unite to urge our government and business leaders to pay more attention to the health of individuals, families and society. We have to instill a new social consciousness into society that puts health first.  
  If business leaders from both sides of the Taiwan Strait can make public health their prime responsibility, public health scares involving tainted milk powder, toxic beans and candy can be avoided. Our health departments and legislators need to think about how to assist businesses in emphasizing the value of health and implementing more rigorous legal punishment for products that harm public health.  
  Surprisingly, the four cross-strait agreements signed during the recent visit of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (
陳雲林) only covered responses to the melamine contamination scandal. They lacked comprehensive, forward-looking policies for the improvement of public safety.  
  After the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the recent increasing global expansion of dengue hemorrhagic fever aggravated by global warming, transnational efforts to prevent severe epidemics have become the top priority for global health. At a time when sea and air travel across the Strait are increasing, the public health professionalism and disease prevention efforts on both sides of the Strait will face tough challenges. 
  Since Taiwan is still not a member of the WHO, I hope that China’s leaders can embody some of the humanistic spirit of Confucianism and altruism by placing public health and social justice above economic development and political differences and finally reaching our ultimate goal — health for all.  
King Chwan-chuen is a professor in the Institute of Epidemiology at National Taiwan University’s College of Public Health. 

This story has been viewed 290 times till morning of Dec. 2, 2008.

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