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Dr. Barbe meets Pope Francis while serving as WMA President


Through the years, those serving in the role of president for the World Medical Association would make two to three trips per month representing the WMA all over the world.

For Mountain Grove’s Dr. David Barbe, his presidency was anything but normal.

He was installed as WMA president in October 2020 only to find himself a few months later leading one of the most respected medical association’s  in the world through the COVID-19 pandemic.

He spent the past year making nearly all of his presentations virtually and had not made one international trip in the top positions with the WMA.

That all changed on Monday, Sep. 27 when he was invited to  participate in the Pontifical Academy for Life Workshop in Rome. Dr. Barbe spoke on the pandemic from the physician’s perspective during the workshop entitled “Public Health Global Perspective, The Case of COVID-19.”

This morning session also included a special guest, Pope Francis. Dr. Barbe then received the opportunity to go through the greeting and receiving line to shake hands with the Pope. He did note those in the line were invited to remove their masks before meeting Pope Francis.

“That was certainly an event of a lifetime,” he noted. “How many times does anybody have a chance to meet the Pope? That was quite a deal and to be able to be seated right in front as he came in and walked in front of me. I was just 20 feet away.”

At the end of the morning session featuring an audience with the Pope, the group left the conference center and walked across St. Peter’s square and into the Apostolic Palace where the Pope has offices.

After the once-in-a-lifetime meeting, the archbishop invited Dr. Barbe and a researcher to participate in a press conference with 25 reporters. The press pool questioned him for 45 minutes. He also did an interview for the Catholic TV channel. The main focal point was the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of vaccines. Dr. Barbe said he was also fortunate enough to take in some of the tourist sites like the ruins, pantheon and St. Peter’s Basilica.

For Dr. Barbe, the trip is was just days before the WMA would meet in its annual General Assembly, which will be held virtually due to the pandemic. The original plan was for that meeting to be in London, England and hosted by the British Medical Association. Dr. Barbe said he will soon start serving one additional year as an immediate past president.

More on the WMA

The World Medical Assn was founded in 1947 in the aftermath of WWII due in part to the atrocities that were committed during the war by physicians and in the name of medicine/ medical research.  The first major document produced by the WMA was the International Code of Medical Ethics approved in 1949. 

The WMA is an association of the national medical associations of 115 countries representing 10 million physicians worldwide. 

The WMA issues Declaration and Statements on a wide variety of topics including ethical and scientific topics.  Examples of topics include: ethical principles for research on human subjects, end of life care, the physician-patient relationship, organ donation and transplantation, disaster preparedness, etc.

Dr. Barbe noted that the WMA is a very important association to countries throughout the world as many physicians are oppressed in many other nations.

He noted that during his time as president, he has sent letters to Turkey and Nigeria to support physicians working in those countries.

“Part of what the WMA does is improve working conditions around the world for physicians and improve medical care...,” Dr. Barbe said.

He added the pseudoscience and sham therapies are some obstacles in underdeveloped countries.

“The most impressive experience (as president) has been to meet physician leaders from all of the other countries,” he said. “Many of them are quite accomplished and well known in their countries.”

He also noted that many of the same leaders working with WMA are also practicing physicians like himself.

Dr. Barbe did note that there is no connection between the WMA and WHO, though their headquarters are close in proximity in Switzerland. The two organizations do interact with one another.



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