World Medical Association General Assembly

Delegates from more than 40 national medical associations attended the annual General Assembly of the World Medical Association in Seoul, South Korea, from 15 to 18 October. They discussed a number of issues, including the following:

A new Statement was approved stating that antibiotics (Antimicrobial agents) should be available only through a prescription provided by licensed and qualified health care or veterinary professionals. The Association warned that the global increase in resistance to antimicrobial drugs had created a multi-faceted public health problem of crisis proportions with significant economic and human implications. It said that the use of antimicrobial agents as feed additives for animals should be strictly restricted to those antimicrobials that did not have a human public health impact. Delegates warned that there was substantial misuse and overuse of antimicrobial agents, inappropriate prescribing, and poor compliance with antimicrobial regimens by patients.
The Association will continue to work with George Mason University in Virginia, USA to monitor and develop the issue.

The rights of women and children to full and adequate medical care, especially where religious and cultural restrictions hinder access to such medical care, were supported by the meeting. Delegates urged national medical associations to condemn violations of the basic human rights of women and children. They approved a new Resolution stating that for years women and girls worldwide had been suffering increasing violations of their human rights, including restrictions to access to employment, education and health care. In many countries female doctors and nurses had been prevented from exercising their profession, leading to female patients and their children not having access to health care. The WMA urged its members to increase the effective participation of women in the medical profession.

A fifty per cent reduction in the sodium content of processed foods, fast food products and restaurant meals over the next decade was called for. Citing overwhelming evidence that excessive sodium/salt intake is a risk factor for the worsening of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases, delegates urged physicians to advise patients on how to reduce sodium/salt intake, including reducing the amount of salt used in cooking at home.

The meeting called for the phasing out of mercury use in the health care sector. Delegates said hospitals and medical facilities should switch to non-mercury equivalents. This would involve eliminating mercury-containing products such as thermometers, sphygmomanometers, gastrointestinal tubes, batteries, lamps, electrical supplies, thermostats, pressure gauges, and other laboratory reagents and devices. They also urged physicians to counsel patients about fish consumption in order to emphasise those fish high in omega 3 fatty acids for their value to heart and brain health and low in mercury contamination. This was particularly necessary for children and women of childbearing age.

Medical associations were urged to work with their governments to initiate programmes for families and individuals needing medical and psychological support because of the current economic crisis and to preserve at least the current expenditure on health.

The meeting supported calls for investigating the controlled production of opium for medical purposes in Afghanistan. Delegates approved a resolution urging governments to support a scientific pilot project to investigate whether certain areas of Afghanistan could provide the right conditions for the strictly controlled production of morphine and diamorphine for medical purposes.

National medical association members were urged to lobby actively national governments and legislators against any participation of physicians in capital punishment. The Assembly said it was unethical for physicians to participate in capital punishment in any way, including the planning and instruction and/or training of people to perform executions.

Dr. Dana Hanson, a dermatologist from New Brunswick in Canada, was elected President for 2009/10. He will take up office in a year’s time.

Applications for membership were accepted from national medical associations in Albania, Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, Cyprus, Mali, Senegal, Poland and Ukraine. The total number of national medical association members of the WMA is now 94.