WMA Urges Medical Neutrality in Times of Conflict

(15.05.2009) The provision of medical care and the evacuation of the trapped and wounded during times of armed conflict have been reiterated by the World Medical Association.

At its Council meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel, today the WMA highlighted the conflicts in Gaza, Sri Lanka, Dafur and the Congo which it said had led to loss of life and the impairment of living conditions.

‘International standards of medical neutrality must be upheld throughout such conflicts’, said a WMA resolution.

The meeting reaffirmed the obligation incumbent on all parties in conflict situations to abide by the rules of international medical ethics as well as the provisions of international humanitarian law as expressed in the Geneva Conventions. It also called on all parties to refrain from targeting medical personnel and medical facilities.

The WMA resolution reaffirmed its existing policy on ‘Regulations in Time of Armed Conflict’ and the obligations of physicians included in it.

It also reiterated its commitment to the maintenance of health as a universal right and that this was not conditional on peaceful existence.

Dr. Edward Hill, chair of the WMA, said: ‘Governments, armed forces and others in positions of power should comply with the Geneva Conventions to ensure that physicians and other health care professionals can provide care to everyone in need in situations of armed conflict. Physicians must be granted access to patients, medical facilities and equipment and the protection needed to carry out their professional activities freely.

'In today's world it is more important than ever that physicians recognise their ethical responsibilities in times of armed conflict. They are often faced with enormously difficult situations and I hope that these guidelines will help them abide by the highest ethical standards of the medical profession'.