Tony Waterston: Doctors for Peace meet in Delhi

Inaugurating a medical congress with a peace march by medical students seems anomalous but not for International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), which has just held its global congress in Delhi, organised by the Indian Doctors for Peace and Development. The march was from Wagah on the India-Pakistan border to the Mahatma Ghandi burial site by the Ganges river in Delhi, and for the 74 students from 12 countries who participated it was a momentous occasion. India, itself a nuclear state, is bordered by Pakistan and China who are both nuclear themselves and hence has urgent need to IPPNW’s presence.
For IPPNW (Nobel Peace prize winner in 1985), this was the 18th congress and there is renewed hope that perhaps there is progress on the long march towards the elimination of nuclear weapons, which could end life on earth and for which prevention is the only remedy. The congress heard a hopeful message from Senator Douglas Roche, a Canadian and long term worker for nuclear disarmament, that four leading Americans including Henry Kissinger have come out with a clarion call for abolition and that Senator Obama supports this goal.(l)
So, what is IPPNW doing to give momentum to this logical objective? Much space at the congress was devoted to “ICAN”: the Australian-initiated International Campaign to abolish Nuclear Weapons. This exciting new health professionals’ campaign is gaining momentum internationally and uses medical expertise to educate, advocate and engage with politicians towards a Nuclear Weapons convention to match the chemical and biological weapons conventions. ICAN is also calling for the removal of highly enriched Uranium from the production of medical isotopes.(1)
The second main campaign of IPPNW, initiated by third world affiliates, is “Aiming for Prevention,” which has the objective of stopping small arms violence through education and advocacy. Led by Zambia, Kenya and Nigeria, this campaign has been collecting data on gun violence in 7 countries and will use this to publicise its message. There was also a session on globalisation and militarization, led by US writer Susan George, who has for long been one of the foremost campaigners on the destruction which international finance is wreaking on the poor throughout the world.
Indian doctors participated strongly at the meeting together with many other Asian, European, American, African, Middle East and south pacific states. The excitement of working together between North and South, East and West and young and old (there is huge enthusiasm from the strong student IPPNW movement) was palpable and the three newly elected co-Presidents from Nigeria, Finland and Russia give a perfect balance to the movement. In the words of Sergey Lavrov (Russian Foreign Minister) sent to the Congress: “Issues of overcoming the nuclear threat and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction remain as high as ever on the global agenda. You contribute significantly towards strengthening international peace by promoting the understanding that there is no alternative to multilateral approaches in resolving major problems in world politics.”

1. Williams B, Ruff TA. Getting nuclear bomb fuel out of radioisotopes. Lancet 2008, 371: 795-796.

Tony Waterston
Newcastle upon Tyne