World's Doctors Call For Action On Landmines


Representatives of the world's doctors have called for action to combat the growing threat from landmines.

Meeting in Geneva, where the United Nations conference on Conventional Weapons is also considering the issue of landmines, the Council of the World Medical Association passed a motion emphasising the role of physicians in defining unnecessary suffering arising from the use of weapons systems such as landmines.

The WMA, which represents 63 national medical associations, expressed its intention to prepare a Statement setting out the responsibilities of medical associations in producing such definitions. Dr Anders Milton, chairman of the WMA Council, said: "It is important that we reaffirm our commitment to prevent unnecessary suffering through the use of weapons. We hope that this week's UN Conference will take steps to reduce suffering from the use of landmines which are used indiscriminately and which, by design, inflict severe and permanent disability on survivors."

We look forward to exploring other ways of preventing such harm to the population of the world. At its 144th Council Session in Geneva, the World Medical Association also considered the following issues:

Family Violence:

The Council decided to circulate to national medical associations a proposed Statement on Family Violence calling on associations to intensify and broaden their efforts to combat the growing world problem of family violence. The meeting identified the problem as a major public health issue which could be found in every country of the world, cutting across gender and all racial, ethnic, religious and socio-economic lines.

The proposed Statement urges national medical associations to raise the awareness of family violence among doctors and to improve the training of doctors on the subject. The document will be submitted for approval to the WMA's General Assembly in October.

Microbial Agents:

The Council approved a proposed Statement on Resistance to Antimicrobial Drugs. The paper from the American Medical Association warns that the global increase in resistance to antimicrobial drugs has created "a public health problem of potentially crisis proportions". The situation had been exacerbated by substantial misuse and overuse of antimicrobial agents, inappropriate prescribing by physicians and poor compliance by patients. The proposed Statement, which will be submitted to the General Assembly for approval, urges increased support for the global network of antimicrobial resistance surveillance and calls on national medical associations to urge their governments to require antimicrobial agents to be available only through prescription by licenced qualified health care and veterinary professionals.

Allocation Of Health Care Resources:

The Council approved for publication a discussion paper on the allocation of health care resources which examines the extent to which physicians should be involved in allocation decisions. The paper (available on request) is not an expression of WMA policy.

Male Circumcision:

It was decided to investigate the issue of routine medical circumcision of male infants for other than religious reasons. A report will be made to the next meeting on the incidence of the practice in various parts of the world.

Peru:

The Council called on the Parliament of Peru to intervene in the case of two Peruvian doctors who have been sentenced to 20 years imprisonment on terrorist charges. Dr Anders Milton, chairman of the WMA Council, said: "The only crime of these two doctors has been that they treated patients who were later found to be members of a terrorist organisation."

The Government of Peru has signed United Nations and WHO declarations about the freedom of medical personnel and doctors in times of civil strife and warfare to treat patients from all sides. These international Declarations make it quite clear that it is never a crime for a doctor to treat the sick or wounded, even if they come from the enemy side. A doctor's duty first and foremost is to his patients.

Dr Milton has written to the Speaker of the Peruvian Congress urging the Congress to allow the President of Peru to use his powers of clemency in the case of the two doctors, Dr Fortunato Sumina Taco and Dr Nery Medina Quispe. Failing this, he said, the Parliament should ensure that the doctors' cases were given a fair review by the relevant authorities.

The WMA's latest intervention follows the visit to Peru in December 1994 by Dr Milton and Dr Ian Field, secretary general of the WMA, at the invitation of the Colegio Medico and the Peruvian Medical Federacon. As a result of the visit they were successful in helping in the release of 22 out of 24 Peruvian doctors who were then in prison for various offences.

Cuba:

The Council decided to write to the Government of Cuba requesting that Dr Omar del Pozo and other doctors in similar situations receive prompt and appropriate medical treatment and be released from prison; and that other national medical associations be asked to do the same. Dr del Pozo is serving a 15 year prison sentence having been accused of working against the state. He has since been declared a prisoner of conscience and is now desperately ill.

Dr Ransome-Kuti:

The World Medical Association has renewed its call for the release from prison of Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, former secretary general of the Nigerian Medical Association. Dr Ransome-Kuti was sentenced to life imprisonment in Nigeria last year, accused of trying to overthrow the Nigerian Government. So far all pleas from the WMA and governments throughout the world on behalf of Dr Ransome-Kuti have failed.

Dr Anders Milton, chairman of the Council said: "Our knowledge of Dr Ransome-Kuti as a colleague and as an individual has convinced us that he is innocent of the charges laid against him of trying to overthrow the Government. He is a distinguished member of the Nigerian community and we would urge the President of the Republic to use his powers to free Dr Ransome-Kuti."

Haiti:

The Council endorsed an application for membership from the Haitian Medical Association. Membership will be ratified by the General Assembly