Mercury, even in relatively low doses, can have serious adverse impacts on health, in particular in relation to neurodevelopment. Mercury has been an integral part of many medical devices, most prominently thermometers and sphygmomanometers. These devices break or leak with regularity, adding to the global burden of mercury in the environment and exposing health care personnel to the acute effects of the metal itself.

Read more on Mercury and Health Care (Health Care Without Harm)

An increasing number of health and environment organisations engage in advocacy and sponsor projects worldwide to reduce the over-exposure in mercury in children and adults and to explore the replacement of mercury-based medical devices by affordable, accurate and safer alternatives.

WMA Current Policy & Action

In October 2008, the WMA adopted a statement on Reducing the Global Burden of Mercury. Recognising the urgent need to reduce both the supply and demand of mercury in the health care sector, the WMA makes a range of recommendations, including that the National medical associations lobby their governments for the reduction of risks related to mercury in the environment and that physicians at the local level explore ways to eliminate mercury-containing products in their offices and clinical practices.

Further to this statement, the WMA joined the UNEP Global Mercury Partnership and in particular the “Mercury in products” area, sharing the partnership’s goal of protecting human health and the global environment from the release of mercury and its compounds.

At its  General Assembly in New Delhi (India) in October 2009, Mr A.K. Sengupta from WHO-India presented WHO Activities in the area of Mercury in Health Care with focus on Regional Perspective, including the Mercury Free Healthcare Initiative, co-lead by Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) and the WHO. This initiative is based on the 2005 WHO Policy Paper that calls for short, medium and long-term steps to achieve the gradual substitution of mercury-based medical devices. This initiative is a component of the UN Environment Programme’s Mercury Products Partnership.

The WMA is also involved in the negotiation of the UNEP (UN Environment Programme) for a legally binding instrument on mercury. The UNEP  convened an intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) with the mandate to prepare the legally binding instrument. The first session of the committee was held in Stockholm, Sweden, from 7 to 11 June 2010. WMA was represented at the meeting, bringing forward its 2008 mercury resolution.

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