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World Medical Association Adopts Climate Change, Task Shifting Resolutions

At its general assembly in New Delhi, India, the World Medical Association (WMA), “a conglomerate of medical associations around the world,” approved a plan that aims “to minimise the risk of increased malnutrition deaths, diseases and injuries due to climate change,” IANS/Thaindian News reports (10/17). As a result of rising temperatures, “[h]ealth practitioners expect that certain diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, will increase and spread to new areas,” Radio New Zealand International writes (10/20). 

The plan, called the “Declaration of Delhi,” makes specific recommendations about how to mitigate the health effects of climate change. It calls for funds to strengthen health systems in developing countries, sustainable development projects, public initiatives to increase access to safe water and waste disposal, and additional studies to investigate the impact of climate change on health, according to IANS/Thaindian News. “National medical associations and physicians should be fully involved in the development of national and local plans to prepare for climate emergencies, including initiatives to stop privatisation of water,” the WMA forum said (10/17).

Mukesh Haikerwal, the WMA’s executive councilor, said climate change could increase cases of water-borne diseases in the Pacific. “Malaria is obviously one of these diseases, the number of people affected will increase but also the other diseases such as diarrhoeal diseases and diseases directly from dehydration and indeed directly just heat,” Haikerwal said, Radio New Zealand International reports in a second article (10/20). Edward Hill, chair of the WMA, said, in a WMA press release, “if governments continue to regard health as a secondary issue when it discusses climate change, it will be a disaster for us all” (10/17).

The WMA approved another new policy, which outlines “concerns” about “task shifting – where a task normally performed by a physician is transferred to a health worker less well qualified,” according to a second WMA press release. Though the WMA acknowledged that task shifting can improve care in certain situations, it urged caution. “The Association warned that task shifting should not be undertaken or viewed solely as a cost saving measure and should not replace the development of sustainable, fully functioning health care systems. It should be seen as only one response to the shortage of health workers and where it was implemented it should be seen only as an interim measure,” according to the release. The WMA recommends that health authorities consult physicians about task shifting programs (10/19). 

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