Governments should pay more Attention to Children's Health Rights, says WMA

Parents, whose children are admitted to hospital should be allowed to be absent from work without prejudice to their continued employment and should be provided with accommodation in or near the hospital at no or minimal cost, according to the World Medical Association.

Dr James Appleyard, President of the WMA, said parents' employment was so often the key to a family's welfare and it was time that all governments around the world paid more attention to the needs and the rights of the child as a patient. These 'rights' flowed from the respect for each child as an individual, irrespective of gender, race or creed, and were enshrined in Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child.

Dr Appleyard said: 'The health of sick children includes the emotional, social and financial aspects of the healing process and governments should recognize that children need their parents near them when they go into hospital. Countries around the world, both 'developed' and developing, are simply not doing enough to recognize the right of children to the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health.

'Both the richest country in the world, the US and the relatively rich nation, the UK, have dropped down the international league table compiled by UNICEF of children dying under the age of five years. The UK fell from eighteenth place in the world to thirty-first over five years, while the US is now thirty-fourth. These two nations in particular should be doing much better with the resources they have available'.

He said that WMA policy on The Right of a Child to Health Care declared that children must be protected from all forms of physical and mental violence, must be rescued from the devastating consequences of malnutrition and must be prevented from the damaging effects of second hand cigarette smoke.

Sick children in hospital should be allowed as much visiting as possible consistent with good care and must be cared for by professionals with special training and skills to enable them to respond appropriately to their medical, physical, emotional and developmental needs. They must also be given every opportunity and facility for recreation and the continuation of education.

Mothers should not be denied the opportunity to breast feed their children in hospital unless there was a medical contra-indication.

Dr Appleyard said the WMA had contacted its 80 member national medical associations to monitor what was happening around the world to implement the WMA's Declaration of Ottawa on the Right of a Child to Health Care and was now seeking wider consultation, including the advice of the International Pediatric Association, on how the Declaration could be strengthened.

He said it was a 'living' document responding to the needs of the world's children.

'I fear we will find that in a whole host of areas including consent to treatment, data protection and access to information children are being deprived of their true rights. Physicians around the world have a duty to promote these fundamental rights and to press their national government and their local communities to see that the necessary human resources are made available to reach these goals.

'This is about the survival and development of our children. Governments, local communities , parents and physicians all have key roles to play to ensure the best interests of the child are the primary consideration in health care'.