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Sunday, 14. July 2024

January 8th, 2024

We are stronger together: Reflections on 2023

The XXIII IPPNW World Congress – Mombasa, Kenya

2023 was a climax year in my medical peace advocacy work. The year started with a lot of hope; at the time, hope to successfully host the very first IPPNW World Congress in Africa and therefore give an opportunity to many students and young doctors from my beautiful continent to experience the magic that is in IPPNW Congresses. I had only attended one IPPNW World Congress before in 2017, and the great experience gained learning about various indirect determinants of health such as violence and climate change was enough to push me to host this Congress and steer more local and international discussions and solutions surrounding these crucial topics. Therefore, on April 25th to 29th, 2023, IPPNW Kenya with myself leading as the Congress President managed to host slightly over 200 healthcare providers and medical students (both physically and virtually) at the XXIII IPPNW World Congress, “Disarmament, Climate Crisis and Health”. The Congress held at the Travelers Beach Hotel in Mombasa, Kenya was preceded by a successful 500km 5-day IPPNW bike tour from Nairobi to Mombasa that aimed to raise awareness on climate change and how it affects health in addition to encouraging locals to embrace cleaner means of transport.

This Congress was one of its kind. It brought to light with so much clarity how the global issues of nuclear disarmament, ongoing wars, and climate issues adversely affects our health and well-being and what we as healthcare providers should do about it. We were encouraged to keep talking. We were encouraged to keep making available the evidence on effects of these global man-made issues on human and planetary health as part of our advocacy work for a better, more peaceful and sustainable world. At the end of the 3-day main and 1-day student Congress, together with the intense interactions that occurred during the beach-front cocktail reception and poolside Congress dinner, friendships had been built and solidified. Various IPPNW working groups, including one on the climate crisis, had been formed and a number of students and young doctors found mentors to guide them in their professional and advocacy journey. Ultimately, IPPNW became a stronger family and, with this, I dare say the Congress was a huge success! As the XXIII IPPNW Congress President, I sincerely thank all who supported in the planning and fundraising; and those who showed up for the congress either physically or virtually. Here is a link to highlights of the congress as captured by Helmut Lohrer. Asanteni sana!

African Union (AU) Summit and AFCONE meeting to commemorate 14th Anniversary of the Pelindaba Treaty – Nairobi, Kenya

The AU summit was held between July 13th and 16th, 2023 at the UN headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. I was privileged to once more represent IPPNW in this meeting, together with Dr Francis Kuria and Lydia Ndinda (ACRL), Sarah Kimani (Youth for TPNW), Joseph Dube (Disarmament and Arms Control, South Africa), and Celine Nahory (ICAN). In the spirit of advancing universalization of the TPNW, we joined efforts in reaching out to the African delegates, ambitiously targeting the Ministers of Foreign Affairs most of who were convened in this forum, to discuss with them about the TPNW and seek their support within their specific countries.

On Saturday, July 15th, we joined the Africa Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE) at the Trademark Hotel in Nairobi to commemorate the 14th Anniversary of the Africa Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (Pelindaba) Treaty. AFCONE’s Executive Secretary Enobot Agboraw was excited to hear about IPPNW and the work we do towards nuclear disarmament. He invited us to work together with them in future and encouraged us to publish an article about IPPNW’s work in their future newsletters. 

The 74th World Medical Association (WMA) General Assembly – Kigali, Rwanda

Fast forward to 4th to 7th October, 2023 when IPPNW Co-president David Onazi from Nigeria, IPPNW’s International Student Representative (ISR) Walusungu Mtonga from Zambia, and I from Kenya were selected to represent IPPNW at the 74th WMA General Assembly in Kigali, Rwanda. We attended this meeting with an obvious obligation to continue IPPNW’s advocacy that had been started in the previous WMA meetings by other IPPNW colleagues such as the former Board Chair Bjorn Hilt, current Chair Ruth Mitchell, IPPNW Policy Director Charles K Johnson, and IPPNW Program Director Molly McGinty, among others. In particular, we had one clear mission – to stimulate strong emotions surrounding nuclear weapons and health among the medical fraternity and to seek WMA’s support in updating the World Health Organization (WHO)’s 1987 publication on “Effects of Nuclear War on Health and Health Services”. With this in mind, David and I did a moving presentation on “Nuclear Weapons: Effects on Human and Planetary Health” that steered a lot of interest and positive reactions from the audience. Notably, one of the doctors from Hongkong Medical Association was so moved that he stood up, went to the microphone and asked the WMA president to comment on the presentation David and I had just made, stating how important the issue of nuclear weapons is based on the evidence we had presented. He added that indeed WMA had been too quiet on the topic of nuclear weapons and health.

With this, WMA president Dr Lujain Al-Qodmani echoed her commitment to work with IPPNW on nuclear disarmament and in particular supporting an update of WHO’s 1987 publication to incorporate the new evidence that has since been generated. True to her word, I was elated to see Dr. Lujain participating in IPPNW’s side event later in the year during the 2nd Meeting of States Party (2MSP) to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) where she spoke about prevention of nuclear war as being paramount to safeguarding human and planetary health. 

The 2nd Meeting of States Party (2MSP) to the Nuclear Ban Treaty – New York City (NYC) 

Having been in the peace advocacy space for roughly 10 years, at the start of the year 2023, I had a strong desire to take my medical peace advocacy work a notch higher. “What better way”, I thought to myself, “of doing this other than joining one of the meetings at the United Nations?” Therefore, when IPPNW gave me the chance to join its delegation to the United Nations’ 2MSP to the TPNW, I was elated! Despite a bit of uncertainty about what to expect and how best to participate in this important meeting, I remained optimistic about this inspiring opportunity and made my way through an 18-hour flight to the city that never sleeps! Not even the cold weather that I somehow was not mentally prepared for could prevent me from making the most out of this exciting opportunity.

On the first day of the meeting, my colleague Dr Kelvin Kibet, IPPNW Africa Regional Vice President, and I noted that Kenya did not have any observer at the meeting. Encouraged by our colleagues from IPPNW, we endeavored to pay a visit to the UN Permanent Representative at the Kenya Mission in NYC and have discussions with him surrounding Kenya’s stance on joining the TPNW. With shameless audacity, we set out to the Kenya Mission and requested to see the ambassador. We were lucky enough to find him in his office and even luckier that he agreed to give us an audience. This was the 1st highlight of my experience at the 2MSP. In a span of 3 hours, we had an intriguing conversation about best steps that Kenya could take in making informed, self-led decisions in joining the TPNW and committing to never having or aspiring to have these weapons of mass destruction. I was deeply moved by this leader’s revolutionary way of thinking in that decisions made on behalf of any country need to be country led; taken through a thorough process of discussions by the professionals in the country, even if the process ultimately leads to the same conclusion. At the end of the meeting, we were glad that we had a good way forward – to start the process of more serious and well represented TPNW discussions locally. Following our engagement and as a salient commitment to our discussions, the ambassador sent the Kenya Mission’s Political Coordinator/Security Council Member Mr. Gideon Kinuthia to join the 2MSP as an observer on 30th November, 2023. 

Delivering a statement to the UN delegation at 2MSP on behalf of IPPNW was to me, the culmination of the meeting and the most important role IPPNW had trusted me with. The support I got from the IPPNW delegation while preparing for and delivering this statement was enormous. On behalf of our prestigious organization, we urged all States Parties to the TPNW to build on and extend the work of the Scientific Advisory Group by taking the following steps at 2MSP: 

  1. Urge and support the World Health Organization to convene an international committee of experts to produce a 21st century updated report on the effects of nuclear war on health and health services.
  2. One of the most effective ways to support this work would be for states to provide the necessary funding; Urge the UN Secretary General to produce a new United Nations comprehensive report on nuclear weapons, with contributions from all relevant United Nations agencies;
  3. Request the TPNW Scientific Advisory Group to encourage, assist, and where appropriate, contribute to these initiatives.

I thank the IPPNW board for trusting me to deliver the statement. Additionally, I thank the IPPNW Central Office for supporting me financially in attending the 2MSP and WMA GA. My heartfelt gratitude also goes to the lovely Cathey Falvo, IPPNW’s member from the Physicians for Social Responsibility USA for graciously hosting me in her home during my stay in NYC.

Let’s stay stronger together!

I look back to the year that was 2023 and indeed marvel at the achievements made in the IPPNW space. It's exciting to think about how much was achieved in that one year because as I went on making my small contribution, several other IPPNW members were also making theirs. When all is put together, I can only imagine how much we all achieved – together! I remain indebted to IPPNW for giving us all a platform to volunteer our efforts in making the world a better place.

by Dr. Sally Ndung'u, IPPNW At-Large Board Member and XXIII IPPNW Congress President