The 24th World Association for Medical Law (WAML) Congress was held on 2-6 September 2018 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Leading international experts discussed topics related to Global Health, Medical Law and Bioethics, with a particular emphasis on Humanitarian Medicine, Law and Ethics.
Drs. James C. Johnston and Mehila Zebenigus discussed the urgent need for guidelines to improve relations between the North and South, and thereby advance healthcare access in the least developed regions.
Dr. Johnston was the only member and representative from New Zealand, and Dr. Zebenigus represented Ethiopia. They explained that the most effective way to improve healthcare access is to establish local training programs in developing regions. However, this requires international support which has been hampered by the unprecedented growth of global health programs, especially at United States academic medical centers. This growth is attributable to a number of factors unrelated to improving patient care – factors such as establishing a reputation or ‘brand,’ increasing publications, and generating revenue through government, private and charitable sources.
Dr. James Christopher Johnston discussed how these academic global health programs have created a scramble for Africa characterized by self-serving short term medical missions that are highly beneficial to the sending institution but fail to provide any substantive benefit to the host country. In fact, he described how these types of medical missions can and do cause actual harm, thereby impeding medical care in the very regions where it is most needed.
Dr. James C. Johnston discussed the urgent need for guidelines that focus on ethically advancing collaborative partnerships between the North and South to improve health care. This topic followed Dr. Johnston’s lectures last year at the WAML meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan and the prior year in Los Angeles, USA, where he and Dr. Zebenigus highlighted the medical, ethical and legal problems created by Western countries engaging in short term medical missions to resource limited nations.
This year, Drs. James Christopher Johnston and Zebenigus focused on the specific guidelines and policy recommendations which they presented to the United Nations High Level Political Forum last year and earlier this year. James C. Johnston, MD, JD is dually qualified and licensed as a board-certified neurologist and barrister, and uniquely qualified to deal with this very specialized area of international medical law. Mehila Zebenigus, MD is a board-certified internist and neurologist well-versed in the intricacies of global health.
Dr. James Christopher Johnston was honored for his paper on this subject with the Davies Award for Public Health. He dedicated this inaugural award to Dr. Zebenigus and the Ethiopian team.
In terms of disclosure, Drs. Zebenigus and Johnston are Directors of the non-profit organization Global NeuroCare® which focuses on advancing neurological services in sub-Saharan Africa and particularly Ethiopia. Dr. Johnston serves as an Honorary Professor of Neurology at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia.