International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War

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International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) is a non-partisan federation of national medical groups in 63 countries, representing tens of thousands of doctors, medical students, other health workers, and concerned citizens who share the common goal of creating a more peaceful and secure world freed from the threat of nuclear annihilation. The organization's headquarters is in Somerville, Massachusetts. IPPNW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.[1][2]

IPPNW affiliates are national medical organizations with a common commitment to the abolition of nuclear weapons and the prevention of war. Affiliates range in size from a handful of dedicated physicians and medical students to tens of thousands of activists and their supporters. As independent organizations within a global federation, IPPNW affiliates engage in a wide variety of activities related to war, health, social justice, and the environment.

History[edit]

IPPNW was founded in 1980 by physicians from the United States and the Soviet Union who shared a common commitment to the prevention of nuclear war between their two countries. Citing the first principle of the medical profession — that doctors have an obligation to prevent what they cannot treat — a global federation of physician experts came together to explain the medical and scientific facts about nuclear war to policy makers and to the public, and to advocate for the elimination of nuclear weapons from the world’s arsenals.

Founding co-presidents Bernard Lown of the United States and Yevgeniy Chazov of the Soviet Union were joined by other early IPPNW leaders including Jim Muller, and Eric Chivian of the US and Mikhail Kuzin and Leonid Ilyin of the Soviet Union. They organized a team to conduct meticulous scientific research based on data collected by Japanese colleagues who had studied the effects of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and drew upon their knowledge of the medical effects of burn, blast, and radiation injuries.

The doctors sounded a medical warning to humanity: that nuclear war would be the final epidemic; that there would be no cure and no meaningful medical response. Their message reached millions of people around the world. In the words of former New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange, "IPPNW made medical reality a part of political reality."

In its first five years, IPPNW, working closely with its US affiliate Physicians for Social Responsibility and IPPNW-Russia, educated health professionals, political leaders, and the public about the medical and environmental consequences of nuclear warfare. For this effort, which united physicians across the Cold War divide, IPPNW was awarded the UNESCO Peace Education Prize in 1984 [3] and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.[1][2] The Nobel Committee, in its announcement of the award, said IPPNW "has performed a considerable service to mankind by spreading authoritative information and by creating an awareness of the catastrophic consequences of atomic warfare."

Although the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US and Russia retained thousands of nuclear weapons ready to launch at a moment’s notice. Proliferation and the threat of nuclear terrorism have added to the nuclear danger in the post-Cold-War world.

During the 1990s, IPPNW established an International Commission to Investigate the Health and Environmental Effects of Nuclear Weapons Production and Testing and worked with the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research to document these effects. The Commission produced a series of books including Radioactive Heaven and Earth, Plutonium: The Deadly Gold of the Nuclear Age, and Nuclear Wastelands, a comprehensive study of the health and environmental impact of the global nuclear weapons production complex.

In October 2007, IPPNW and the Royal Society of Medicine co-sponsored a major conference in London to review the current state of knowledge about nuclear weapons effects. Scientific data about the global climate effects of regional nuclear war presented at that conference became the basis of an IPPNW project on “nuclear famine." The climate findings and an updated summary of the medical consequences of nuclear war are available in an IPPNW publication, Zero Is the Only Option: Four Medical and Environmental Cases for Eradicating Nuclear Weapons.

In recent years, IPPNW and its affiliates have drawn new attention to the health and environmental effects of uranium mining and processing, conducting community health surveys in India and challenging Australia’s plans to ramp up its uranium export industry. In 2010, the federation's international council passed a resolution calling for a global ban on uranium mining because of the dangers it poses to health and the environment.

IPPNW has also studied a nuclear danger in the medical profession’s own backyard—the use of highly enriched uranium in reactors that produce medical isotopes—and has campaigned for the conversion of those vulnerable reactors to non-weapons-grade uranium.

IPPNW launched the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in 2007, and is now the lead medical NGO campaigning for a global treaty to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons, along with more than 200 humanitarian, environmental, human rights, peace and development organizations in more than 80 countries.

In the 1990s, IPPNW expanded its scope to address the continuum of armed violence that undermines health and security. IPPNW is committed to ending war and to addressing the causes of armed conflict from a public health perspective. The global campaign to ban landmines marked IPPNW’s first major entry into the non-nuclear arena. The federation became engaged in addressing small arms violence in 2001 when it launched Aiming for Prevention, which has since broadened to include the public health dimensions of all types of armed violence. Aiming for Prevention has been driven by IPPNW affiliates from the global South — primarily Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and South Asia — whose members live and work in areas where armed violence is a constant threat and consumes significant portions of health care budgets.

As part of Aiming for Prevention, IPPNW participated in a broad-based global coalition of civil society organizations that campaigned successfully for passage of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). IPPNW is an active participant in the World Health Organization’s Violence Prevention Alliance, and coordinates the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) Public Health Network.

Continuing medical education courses and trainings in the emerging field of Peace through Health have been developed by IPPNW affiliates with university affiliations in Norway, Denmark, the UK, and Canada. IPPNW supports and encourages academic work to advance the understanding of the interconnections between peace and health.

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