World Medical Association

The World Medical Association (WMA) is an international and independent confederation of free professional medical associations, therefore representing physicians worldwide. WMA was formally established on September 18, 1947[1] and has grown in 2018 to 113 national medical associations[2] [3] and more than 10 million physicians.

The WMA provides a forum for its member associations to communicate freely, to co-operate actively, to achieve consensus on high standards of medical ethics and professional competence and to promote the professional freedom of physiciansworldwide. With this unique partnership, WMA aims to facilitate high-caliber, humane care to patients in a healthy environment, enhancing the quality of life for all people in the world.

The purpose of the WMA is to serve humanity by endeavoring to achieve the highest international standards in Medical Education, Medical Science, Medical Art and Medical Ethics, and Health Care for all people in the world.[4]

The WMA was founded on 18 September 1947, when physicians from 27 different countries met at the First General Assembly of the WMA in Paris. This organization was built from an idea born in the House of the British Medical Association in 1945, within a meeting organized in London to initiate plans for an international medical organization to replace l’Association Professionnelle Internationale des Médecins”, which had suspended its activities because of World War II.[1]

In order to facilitate financial support from its member associations, in 1948, the executive board, known as the Council, established the Secretariat of the WMA in New York City in order to provide close liaison with the United Nations and its various agencies. The WMA Secretariat remained in New York City until 1974 when for reasons of economy, and in order to operate within the vicinity of Geneva-based international organizations (WHO, ILO, ICN, ISSA, etc.) it was transferred to its present location in Ferney-Voltaire, France. The WMA members gathered in an annual meeting, which from 1962 was named “World Medical Assembly.”

Since its beginning WMA has shown concern over the state of medical ethics in general and over the world, taking the responsibility for setting ethical guidelines for the world physicians. A modernized wording of the ancient oath of Hippocrates was sent for consideration at the II General Assembly in Geneva in 1948. The medical vow was adopted and the Assembly agreed to name it the “Declaration of Geneva.”

Also in the same II General Assembly a report on “War Crimes and Medicine” was received. This prompted the Council to appoint another Study Committee to prepare an International Code of Medical Ethics, which after an extensive discussion, was adopted in 1949 by the III General Assembly.

Even after the adoption of these two documents, WMA was constantly being informed about violations of medical ethics, crimes committed by doctors in time of war, unethical human experimentation, among several other problems in the field of medical ethics and medical law. This information caused the Council to establish a permanent Committee on Medical Ethics in 1952, which has been working actively ever since, as one can see from the declarations or statements of the WMA and their continuous updates.

During the World Medical Association General Assembly in Reykjavik in early October 2018, members of the Canadian Medical Association stated that parts of the speech by WMA’s incoming president Leonid Eidelman had been plagiarized from a speech made in 2014 by Chris Simpson (cardiologist) who was then the president of CMA. Current president Dr. Gigi Osler told the group that part of the address was “copied word for word” from Simpson’s speech. “Multiple other parts of the speech were also copied from various websites, blogs and news articles, without proper appropriate attribution to the authors”, she latter added in a statement. A motion by Canada at the Assembly to call on Eidelman to resign was not successful.[5] On 6 October, the CMA resigned; their press release stated that the decision was made because WMA was not upholding ethical standards.[6]

In an email to The Canadian Press, WMA spokesman Nigel Duncan said that Eidelman’s speech had been written by others and that he did not know that it might contain plagiarism. [7] A WMA source also told The Canadian Press that Eidelman apologized at the general assembly, after the Canadian delegates had departed; he “acknowledge[d] that part of his speech was taken from Simpson”, and most delegates “accepted his apology” for the mistake.[8][9]

The main decision-making body of the WMA is the General Assembly, which meets annually and is formed by delegations from the National Member Associations, officers and members of the Council of the WMA, and representatives of the Associate Members (Associate Members are individual physicians who wish to join the WMA).

The Assembly elects the WMA Council every two years with representatives drawn from each of the six WMA regions, namely Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America and the Pacific. It also elects the WMA president annually, who is the Ceremonial Head of the WMA. The President, President Elect and Immediate Past President form the Presidium that is available to speak for the WMA and represent it officially.

Every two years, the WMA Council, excluding the Presidium, elects a Chairperson who is the political head of the organization. As Chief Executive of the operational units of the WMA, the Secretary-General is in full-time employment at the Secretariat, appointed by the WMA Council.

The WMA Secretariat is situated in Ferney-Voltaire, France, adjacent to the City of Geneva.

English, French, and Spanish are the official languages of the association since its creation.

The WMA is active in several areas of action,[11] but mainly in:

Advocacy

Ethics

Health Systems

Human Rights

Public Health

In what concerns Ethics, the WMA has various Declarations, Resolutions and Statements with which tries to help to guide National Medical Associations, governments and international organizations throughout the world. A wide range of subjects are covered like the rights of patients, research on human subjects, care of the sick and wounded in times of armed conflict, torture of prisoners, the use and abuse of drugs, family planning and pollution.[12]

WMA also works on:

Medical education

Human resources planning for health care services

Patient safety

Leadership and career development

Advocacy for physicians’ and patients’ rights

Occupational health and safety

Democracy building for new medical associations

Public health policy

Projects such as tobacco control and immunization

The WMA also works on Education Programs such as the prison-medicine course, the MDR-TB and the TB refresher course, the ethics course and the course on microbial resistance (together with the George Mason University and the International Society for Microbial Resistance).

All WMA policy documents and publications (some in various languages)[13] are available for free download on their website. These include:

The World Medical Journal

The WMA Medical Ethics Manual

The World Medical and Health Policy Journal

Caring Physicians of the World

Toolkits

Background Documents

The World Medical Association is embedded in a network of organizations ranging from medical societies and associations to organizations of commercial entities.

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