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Haikerwal departs top World Medical Association position

The international standing of the medical profession is high, with governments around the world regularly seeking the counsel of the World Medical Association and national organisations on health matters, according to outgoing WMA Chair of Council Dr Mukesh Haikerwal.

Dr Haikerwal, who served as WMA Council Chair for four years until losing a run-off for the position last month, said many doctors and other health professionals continued to work in extremely challenging conditions, but their commitment to the welfare of patients meant that the profession was well-respected and influential.

“The profession is highly regarded and its contribution is sought after,” the former AMA President said, though he warned, “a lot of work has to be done to retain that place, with on-going advocacy on the behalf of patients and doctors”.

Dr Haikerwal said one of the most gratifying achievements of his four-year term was the development of the medical profession in Africa, particularly the creation of national medical associations.

He was particularly pleased by the founding of the Zambian Medical Association last year by doctors who had received WMA-sponsored training and support in organisational skills.

“It has now become the go-to organisation for the Parliament of Zambia on health issues, and Zambia is preparing a bid to host the WMA Conference in 2017. They have gone from zero to hero in very quick time,” Dr Haikerwal said. “This is the work that is so gratifying, bringing the medical viewpoint into national debates by building the capacity of organisations.”

But he said there were also disturbing developments, particularly increased violence against doctors and other health professionals.

Dr Haikerwal said increasingly in countries as diverse and China, Turkey, the United States and in Eastern Europe, reduced health spending meant that an increasing proportion of patients were not receiving the care they expected, often resulting in violent – and sometimes fatal – attacks on doctors, nurses and other health workers.

Dr Haikerwal said it had been a great honour to serve as WMA Chair, a position which, coming from Australia, had been “a double-edged sword”.

“It was fantastic, because Australia is so highly regarded across the globe as a voice of reason and creative thinking and not locked into alliances,” he said. “But the negative is that it is a long way to get anywhere.”

Dr Haikerwal has been succeeded by immediate-past American Medical Association President Dr Ardis Hoven, who was elected to become the WMA’s first woman Chair at its 200th Council meeting in Oslo last month.

Dr Hoven is an internal medicine and infectious disease specialist and a Professor of Medicine at Kentucky University.

“We face complex and far-reaching challenges – shrinking resources, complicated and difficult practice environments, shifting government regulations and dangerous working conditions,” Dr Hoven said. “However, our current work speaks to our impact”.

Dr Haikerwal has joined the Board of mental health organisation beyondblue.

Adrian Rollins