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World Medical Association meets in Zambia

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AMA President Dr Michael Gannon represented Australian doctors at the 206th World Medical Association Council meeting.

Medical practitioners from national medical associations around the world gathered to debate a number of key issues in Livingstone, Zambia on April 20 to 22. The event was attended by almost 200 delegates from more than 30 national medical associations.

Medical cannabis was one of the key discussions at the meeting. A Position Statement was developed to be presented at the WMA’s General Assembly in October.

A debate also took place on proposals to revise the WMA’s long-held policy on boxing so as to include safety regulations until a ban could be put in place. A recommendation to revise the policy at the General Assembly was agreed.

The Council agreed they needed to update their position on availability and effectiveness of in-flight medical care, along with the idea of allowing physicians to provide emergency care during flights without fear of legal reprisals.

Discussions also took place on bullying and harassment in the medical workplace; updating ethical advice on hunger strikes for doctors; armed conflicts; medical education; alcohol; and water and health.  

All new policy proposals will be forwarded to the General Assembly.

WMA leaders heard from the Confederation of Latin American National Medical Associations (CONFEMEL) that restrictions on the professional freedom of physicians to practice medicine was leaving patients without basic medical care.  They reported that medical prescriptions and laboratory tests were being restricted, leading to disappointed and sometimes angry patients.

Dr Ketan Desai, President of the WMA, said: ‘We have been told that doctors in Venezuela feel helpless to resolve the situation, which is getting worse day by day. Junior doctors in particular are having to face angry patients and are often suicidal.

“For the sake of patients and physicians in Venezuela this situation cannot be allowed to continue. We urge the Government of Venezuela to allocate the necessary resources to the health care system and to ensure the independence of physicians to allow them to deliver high quality medical care to their patients. At the moment patients’ fundamental rights to health are being violated.”

WMA is now considering sending a delegation to Venezuela to express support to local doctors as well as report on the situation.  

Extreme concern was expressed by the WMA as well as calling for the immediate release of a Turkish doctor, Dr Serdar Küni who is jailed in Turkey for providing medical treatment to alleged members of Kurdish armed groups.

Dr Küni, a respected member of the local community, and former chairperson of the Şırnak Medical Chamber was the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey’s representative in Cizre. He has remained detained since his arrest last October and is awaiting trial. Concerns have been raised by human rights organisations regarding his access to a fair trial and fair hearing rights at that trial.

The WMA believe the case of Dr Küni is one example among many of arrests, detentions, and dismissals of physicians and other health professionals in Turkey since July 2015, when unrest broke out in the southeast of the country.

The WMA moved an emergency resolution that condemned such practices that: “Threaten gravely the safety of physicians and the provision of health care services. The protection of health professionals is fundamental, so that they can fulfil their duties to provide care for those in need, without regard to any element of identity, affiliation, or political opinion.”

It added: “The WMA considers that punishing a physician for providing care to a patient constitutes a flagrant breach of international humanitarian and human rights standards as well as medical ethics. Ultimately it contravenes the principle of humanity that includes the imperative to preserve human dignity.”

The United Nations Security Council has declared, states should not punish medical personnel for carrying out medical activities compatible with medical ethics, or compel them to undertake actions that contravene these standards.

Meredith Horne