Washington DC – Tibetan activists submitted a petition with over 1,600 signatures to the World Health Organization's offices in Washington, DC, demanding the global health group approve a Tibetan refugee hospital's selection as a recipient of a public health award.
The Delek Hospital, a leading medical institution in India that treats thousands of TB patients, was to be awarded the $65,000 Kochon Prize by the Stop-TB Partnership for its outstanding work. The award only needed the approval of WHO as a formality. However, days before the award was to be presented to Dr. Tseten Sadutsang, Chinese diplomats had stormed into the offices of Stop-TB Partnership and objected to the award. Then for the first time since the founding of the award, the WHO refused to give its approval.
"I was shocked to find out how the Chinese government flexes its political muscle deep within the seemingly apolitical World Health Organization," said Dr. Kunchok Dorjee, who directed the Tibetan TB program at Delek Hospital. "The Stop TB Partnership had already selected Delek Hospital to receive the $65,000 award, which could easily help the hospital treat a few hundred TB patients."
On Monday morning, Tibetan activist Jigme Ugen walked into the World Health Organization offices in Washington, DC. Though he was denied entry at first, he refused to leave the building. After several hours of negotiation, he was finally allowed to meet with a senior member who agreed to accept the petition on behalf of Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO.
"As refugees who escaped political and religious oppression at home, Tibetans in exile fit the category perfectly," said Jigme Ugen, who is one of the most well known Tibetan activists in exile. "There is no organization more fit to receive this award than the Delek Hospital, which has saved hundreds of lives in the Tibetan refugee community and the local Indian community."
Tibetans in exile have one of the highest rates of tuberculosis in the world. Their status as refugees – which causes poverty, malnutrition, over-crowding and migration – exacerbates this problem. The abnormal rate of TB among Tibetans is directly linked to China's oppression in Tibet which turned the Tibetans into refugees in the first place. Ironically, China's political meddling is now stopping these very Tibetans from curing their TB problem!