World Medical Association General Assembly


(20.10.2009) At its annual General Assembly in New Delhi, India (October 14-17), the World Medical Association discussed a number of issues, including the following:

CHILD HEALTH

New guidelines on improving the health of the world’s children were agreed, with a broadening of the 1998 WMA Declaration of Ottawa on child health to include policy on the provision of a safe and secure environment for children, the opportunity for their optimal growth and development, health services when needed and research. Dr Ruth Collins-Nakai, from the Canadian Medical Association, who chaired the WMA working group on child health, said: ‘The world’s children are worse off today than they were two decades ago and it is important that in proposing this broader policy we make physicians aware of just how tenuous the status of children is in the world. For instance, many children in the world are not registered at birth and if you don’t register a child, it is much easier to kidnap them, exploit them and even kill them.’

SUPPORT FOR REGULATED STEM CELL RESEARCH

Support was expressed for stem cell research being carried out with appropriate regulation to prevent unacceptable practices. A resolution was adopted declaring that regulation according to established ethical principles was likely to alleviate public concerns, especially if associated with careful policing. Whenever possible, research should be carried out using stem cells that were not of embryonic origin. However there would be circumstances where only embryonic stem cells would be suitable for the research model. Research on stem cells, regardless of their origin, must be carried out according to agreed ethical principles. 

CONFLICT OF INTEREST AND RELATIONS WITH COMMERCIAL ENTERPRISES

New guidelines on physicians’ behaviour on issues of conflict of interest and their relationship with commercial enterprises were adopted. These identify areas where a conflict of interest might occur during a physician’s day-to-day practice of medicine, and seek to assist physicians in resolving such conflicts in the best interests of their patients. Revised advice on physicians receiving sponsorship or gifts when attending conferences or conducting research was also agreed.

CALL FOR MORE INVESTMENT IN PUBLIC HEALTH

With many countries planning to cut their health budgets as a result of the economic recession, the Assembly appealed to governments to improve investment in public health, particularly in low income countries. A resolution was adopted warning that many countries were suffering wide inequities and inequalities in health care and this was causing problems of access to health services for the poorer segments of society.

CALL FOR NICARAGUA TO GIVE UP TOTAL BAN ON ABORTION

An emergency resolution called on the Nicaraguan government to repeal legislation criminalising abortion. It said the legislation was having a negative impact on the health of women in Nicaragua and could result in preventable deaths of women and the embryo or fetus. The legislation also placed physicians at risk of imprisonment if they broke this law and at risk of suspension from medical practice if they failed to follow government protocols, which sometimes required treatment of a pregnant woman contrary to the legislation.

MEDICAL ASSOCIATIONS URGED TO UNITE IN DEFENDING PROFESSIONALLY-LED REGULATION

National medical associations were urged to adopt a policy of collective action in opposing threats to professionally-led regulation. A Declaration was adopted stating that collective action by the medical profession in assuming responsibility for implementing professionally-led regulation would assure physicians’ right to treat patients without interference, based on their best clinical judgment. As part of the World Health Professions Alliance, the WMA will be holding a conference entitled ‘Shaping the Future of Health Professionals’ Regulation’ in Geneva in February 2010 when speakers will focus on regulation issues faced by physicians, nurses, dentists and pharmacists around the world.

MORE RESOURCES NEEDED TO TRAIN AND RETAIN PHYSICIANS

Physicians’ working conditions across the world need to be improved to deter physician migration, it was agreed. The meeting warned that the migration of health care professionals from developing countries to developed countries over the past ten years had impaired the performance of health systems in developing countries. Concern was expressed about significant shortages of health workers, particularly in developing countries and that many countries had not invested adequately in the education, training, recruitment and retention of their medical workforce.

Separate press releases were issued on climate change, harassment of physicians in Iran and task shifting.

ELECTIONS

Dr. Dana Hanson, former President of the Canadian Medical Association was installed as President of the WMA for 2009/10.

Dr. Ketan Desai, President of the Medical Council of India, was elected unopposed as President of the WMA for 2010/11.