Medical doctors of the World Medical Association (WMA) met in Riga in Latvia at the end of April for their 209th Council meeting. I was privileged to be there as an invited guest to represent IPPNW and to discuss a proposed revised statement on nuclear weapons. The meeting issued an immediate Council resolution that focused on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and protested against the so-called modernization of nuclear weapons. The WMA urged all states to sign and ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

What is special with nuclear weapons is the devastating effects that any use of them have on human beings, all life, and the environment. Nuclear weapons were made to eradicate cities and to kill civilians with heat comparable to that on the surface of the sun, with blast effects that destroy everything, and with lurking ionizing radiation with both short term and long term serious health effects. For doctors, that is just the opposite of our goal to preserve life and health for our patients. Therefore, we see nuclear weapons as an absolute evil that must be eradicated.  Humankind has a duty towards our successors and ourselves to eliminate nuclear weapons before they eliminate us.

Facing health challenges all over the world with infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases including cancer and cardiovascular disease, mother-and child health, psychiatric disorders, and life-style related health problems, doctors are the first to see the need for far more resources channeled into health care and preventive measures. We therefore find it terrible that the nuclear-armed states now plan to use trillions and trillions of US dollars, euros, pounds, and rubles to “modernize” killing machines that must never be used again. The nuclear-armed states seem to want to keep their weapons forever, and the so-called modernization is also a way to make them more usable. The doctors object to this disturbing and dangerous development.

As the WMA is the leading professional organization to defend and safeguard the health of patients and, in every sense, is dedicated to humanity, it is understandable that the organization has become a leading advocate in the critical work towards a safer world free from nuclear weapons.

In 2017 this work reached a new dimension in that 122 UN member states, on 7 July, adopted the text of the TPNW. With this new window of opportunity, the WMA urges its member organizations to educate the public and to put pressure on the governments in their home countries to sign and ratify the Ban Treaty. Once the TPNW has 50 ratifications, it will enter into force and become international law, strengthening the legal and the moral pressure on the nuclear-armed states to negotiate the elimination of all nuclear weapons. The doctors of the world now constitute one of the strong voices contributing to that pressure.

Doctors find it both necessary and possible to prevent another catastrophe with nuclear weapons from happening.