WMA General Assembly

(12.10.2014) Delegates from almost 50 national medical associations attended the annual General Assembly of the WMA in Durban, South Africa from 8 to 11 October. Among the issues discussed were:


In an emergency resolution (press release issued October 8) the WMA declared that the world needed to realize that Ebola was a global crisis and not simply a problem for West Africa. Following a further debate in Assembly delegates adopted a resolution stating: ‘In the case of the Ebola virus, the WMA strongly supports the intention of Paragraph 37 of the 2013 revision of the Declaration of Helsinki, which reads:

“In the treatment of an individual patient, where proven interventions do not exist or other known interventions have been ineffective, the physician, after seeking expert advice, with informed consent from the patient or a legally authorized representative, may use an unproven intervention if in the physician's judgement it offers hope of saving life, re-establishing health or alleviating suffering. This intervention should subsequently be made the object of research, designed to evaluate its safety and efficacy. In all cases, new information must be recorded and, where appropriate, made publicly available”.


Revised guidelines were agreed that countries wishing to recruit physicians from another country should only do so in accordance with a Memorandum of Understanding between the countries. Countries should not rely on immigration to meet its need for physicians. Every country should do its utmost to retain its physicians by providing them with the support they needed. The guidelines say the flow of international migration of physicians is generally from poorer to wealthier countries with the poorer countries bearing the expense of educating the migrating physicians and receiving no recompense in return. So the receiving countries gain a valuable resource without paying for it, and in the process they save the cost of educating their own physicians. 


The Assembly adopted a new statement calling for the introduction of more stringent emission standards for all new diesel vehicles to limit the concentration of soot particles in the air. Air pollution impacts on the quality of life for hundreds of millions of people worldwide, causing both a large burden of disease as well as economic losses and increased health care costs. The statement calls on NMAs to urge their governments to contribute to developing strategies to protect people from soot particles in aircraft passenger cabins, trains, homes and in the general environment and these strategies should include plans to develop and increase the use of public transportation systems.


A new Declaration was approved calling on those in power and all parties involved in violence to ensure the protection of healthcare workers and facilities and to respect their neutrality. The Declaration sets out the factors which increasingly endanger the provision of healthcare in situations of violence and lists principles which are applicable in any situation of violence or armed conflict. It says healthcare personnel should be able to attend to injured and
sick patients, regardless of their role in a conflict, and to carry out their medical duties freely, independently and in accordance with the principles of their profession without fear of punishment or intimidation. 


The meeting adopted a resolution calling on the Qatar government and construction companies to ensure the health and safety of migrant workers on World Cup construction sites in Qatar. The resolution demands that FIFA as the responsible organization of the World Cup take immediate action to secure the life, safety and freedom of movement of migrant workers on World Cup construction sites in Qatar by changing the venue as soon as possible. 


Delegates agreed a revision to WMA policy calling on NMAs to urge their governments to prohibit commercial transactions in human ova, sperm and embryos and any human material for reproductive purpose. The revised policy makes clear that physicians involved in the procurement and use of human ova, sperm, and embryos should implement protocol to ensure that materials have been acquired appropriately with the consent and authorization of the source individuals. 


A new policy on solitary confinement was adopted. This urges those authorities responsible for overseeing solitary confinement to take account of an individual's health. The Assembly said that solitary confinement should not be imposed when it would adversely affected the medical condition of prisoners with a mental illness. It should be imposed only as a last resort, whether to protect others or the individual prisoner, and only for the shortest period of time possible. Prolonged solitary confinement, against the will of the prisoner, must be avoided and physicians should never participate in any part of the decision-making process resulting in solitary confinement. 


Dr. Xavier Deau, a general practitioner in Epinal, Eastern France, and President of the International and European Affairs Delegation of the French Medical Council, was installed as President for 2014/15 and Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Research Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London, was elected unopposed as President for 2015/16.

Dr. Joseph M. Heyman, a gynaecologist from Massachusetts, USA was elected Chair of the Associate Members Group.

Dr. Ahmet Murt, from Turkey, was elected Chair of the Junior Doctors Network. 


Applications for membership from the national medical associations of Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Zambia and Rwanda were accepted, bringing the total number of WMA NMAs and constituent bodies to 111.

A separate news release was issued on new guidelines on cosmetic surgery.