WMA urges national medical associations to ensure that economic sanctions respect agreed exemptions

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.316.7148.1905 (Published 20 June 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:1905
  1. James Appleyard, Chairman, medical ethics committee, World Medical Association
  1. BMA, London WC1H 9JP

    EDITOR— Redgrave and Waller raised the important issue of the effect of economic sanctions on the health and nutrition of the Cuban population.1 The report from the American Association for World Health on the impact of the United States' embargo was brought to the attention of the international committee of the BMA shortly after its publication in March 1997.2 As a result of the concerns raised by the whole issue, the matter was taken by the BMA to the council of the World Medical Association in Paris in April last year. After consultation with other national medical associations the BMA submitted a resolution on economic embargoes on health, which was passed unanimously at the 49th general assembly of the World Medical Association in Hamburg, Germany, in November 1997. The succinct resolution states:

    “Recognising that all people have the right to the preservation of health and that the Geneva Convention (article 23, No IV, 1949) requires the free passage of medical supplies intended for civilians, the WMA urges national medical associations to ensure that governments employing economic sanctions against other states respect the agreed exemptions for medicines, medical supplies, and basic food items.”

    Since then, as chairman of the medical ethics committee of the World Medical Association, I have been in correspondence with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Recently the minister of state, Tony Lloyd, has written to me agreeing that “the humanitarian impact of sanctions should be carefully considered before they are imposed and that trade sanctions should include humanitarian exemptions to allow the supply of food and medicines. This should be the case whether the sanctions are imposed by the United Nations, or by any other organisation.” The foreign secretary, Robin Cook, has called for a humanitarian meeting on Iraq to ensure that the issues that the BMA has mentioned are fully considered.

    The problems are clearly more widespread than the avoidable tragedies that the people of Cuba are having to face. The BMA will continue its campaign, and at the next meeting of the World Medical Association in Ottawa this October I will be discussing the BMA's experience with other national medical associations and seeking progress reports from them.


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