Watch the AMA's daily COVID-19 update, with insights from AMA leaders and experts about the pandemic.

In today’s COVID-19 update, David O. Barbe, MD, MHA, newly inaugurated president of the World Medical Association (WMA) and a past president and past board chair of the AMA, joins AMA President, Susan R. Bailey, MD, and AMA immediate past president, Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA, to discuss the global health organization's work and partnership with the AMA.

Learn more at the AMA COVID-19 resource center.


  • Susan R. Bailey, MD, president, AMA
  • Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA, psychiatrist and immediate past president, AMA
  • David O. Barbe, MD, MHA, president, World Medical Association (WMA)

AMA COVID-19 Daily Video Update

AMA’s video collection features experts and physician leaders discussing the latest on the pandemic.

Unger: Hello, this is the American Medical Association's COVID-19 Update. Today we're talking about the World Medical Association and how it's shaping global health, both during the pandemic and beyond. I'm joined today by Dr. David O. Barbe, the newly inaugurated president of the World Medical Association and a past president and a past board chair of the American Medical Association, as well as a family physician in Mountain Grove, Missouri, Dr. Susan Bailey, AMA's president, and an allergist and immunologist in Fort Worth, Texas, and Dr. Patrice Harris, AMA's immediate past president as well as a psychiatrist and former public health director in Atlanta. I'm Todd Unger, AMA's Chief Experience Officer in Chicago.

Dr. Barbe, I'd first like to congratulate you on your recent inauguration as president of the World Medical Association, just last week. It's an honor and a deserved one. For those of us that are less familiar, let me just start by asking you, what is the World Medical Association, and what role does it play in global health?

Dr. Barbe: Thanks, Todd. It really is a great honor and a privilege to serve as WMA president this coming year. Couldn't have done it without the help and support of the AMA. The WMA is a little known organization in many cases. It was established in 1947, shortly after World War II, in large part to address some of the ethical issues in health care that we saw come up as a result of some of the atrocities during World War II. But it now includes 114 countries represented by their national medical associations, like the AMA, British Medical Association, Japanese Medical Association. And those associations claim nine million physicians as members. So it is a great organization, a broad organization, and really does a lot for world health.

Unger: Dr. Barbe, we tend to hear a lot about the World Health Organization in the news. What's the difference between the World Health Organization and the WMA?

Dr. Barbe: So the WMA, much like the AMA, is a professional organization. An organization made up of physicians and our national organizations. Whereas the WHO, the World Health Organization, are representatives from their respective governments and their departments of health and their executive leadership in each country. The WMA and the WHO do have a very close working relationship. We attend their World Health Assembly and multiple other meetings during the year sponsored by WHO.

Unger: Dr. Harris, can you talk a little bit about the relationship between the American Medical Association and the World Medical Association?

Dr. Harris: Well, as Dr. Barbe mentioned, we are one of the component members of the World Medical Association, certainly representing the AMA. The AMA is the only U.S. organization that is eligible for membership in the WMA. And so each year, the AMA sends the three presidents, the president-elect, the president, and the immediate past president, to represent the AMA at two WMA meetings per year. And it's an opportunity to get together with our colleagues from around the world and discuss problems. And though there are some differences, you'd be surprised at how much we all have in common.

Unger: Dr. Bailey, any words on how AMA's policy interacts with WMA's?

Dr. Bailey: The WMA really looks to the AMA because of our long-standing history of incredible health policy on a very wide range of issues. And so the AMA, when it feels it's appropriate, will bring up issues that we feel would be important to be WMA policy. And one I think that was most significant this past meeting that concluded was a policy on hypertension. Of course, the AMA, through its improving health outcomes strategic pillar, has made controlling hypertension one of our top priorities, and we've got some great programs and great policies around that. And so we felt that it was time since hypertension is the most single important risk factor for cardiovascular disease around the world as not only in the United States. And so we felt like it was important for WMA to have policy on the recognition and the control of hypertension at a world level. And our work at AMA significantly informed that policy. It was a very gratifying experience, and the WMA looks to the AMA a lot, but especially with ethics policies and all sorts of issues where we have so much expertise.

Unger: Well, thank you. Dr. Barbe taking the helm of a global health organization, would be a challenge at any time, but even more so, right now, during this global pandemic. Why did you initially pursue the presidency, and what do you hope to accomplish in your one-year term?

Dr. Barbe: So much of this relates to the very strong relationship that the AMA and the WMA have, and as was mentioned, the WMA sees the AMA as a key leader, and so we have attempted to keep someone from the AMA in a leadership position in the WMA much of the time. So, it was time for us to consider a leadership role in the presidency. And quite honestly, and this is not false humility, I think I just came along at about the right time that the AMA needed some representation, and I was happy to do it. It is critical that we position leaders, take our voices to the world stage, and one of the ways to do that is to have good, strong WMA leadership. And I'm hopeful that I can contribute to that during my year as president.

Unger: Well, focusing on COVID-19, which is obviously at the top of the priority list right now, Dr. Bailey, why don't you talk a little bit about how the AMA and the WMA work together to address this global pandemic? And some of the issues that have been amplified by it, such as health inequities?

Dr. Bailey: Well, we all realize that COVID-19 doesn't stop at international borders. It is truly a worldwide pandemic, and I think that we all can learn from each other and how our various nations have dealt with the pandemic. Obviously, a country that has a nationalized health system and a very top-down form of government is going to be able to easily enact nationwide rules and mandates and things like that, as opposed to a republic like the United States, where many things are left to the state. So, I think just having those lines of communication already open and already having the trust relationship between other countries makes it so much easier to exchange information. And other nations have obviously struggled, but it's important that we continue to share our knowledge to fight this pandemic worldwide.

Unger: Dr. Harris, anything to add to that?

Dr. Harris: Well, Dr. Bailey mentioned communication, and I can tell you, and I believe my colleagues here will attest to the fact that it is a wonderful opportunity to get together, to talk about the different health systems that operate in each country. You know, oftentimes we hear slogans, or we hear folks talk about one country's system over another. But we get to dialogue with the physicians from different countries and really get to see from their perspective how their health systems really work. And so there's just so much opportunity to learn and grow from one another. And another huge area, I think both Dr. Bailey and Dr. Barbe mentioned, was ethics. And right now, I am on the workgroup that's looking at rewriting the entire document that forms the basis of the code of ethics for the WMA. Again, another opportunity where the WMA looks to us at the AMA for leadership. So, it's so much of an opportunity to learn from our colleagues around the world.

Unger: Dr. Barbe, in a conversation you had very early on in the pandemic with the secretary-general of the WMA. You mentioned that many countries tend to see the United States as a quote, "Cowboy Nation," with a lot of independent-minded individuals. How has this shaped and maybe even impeded our country's pandemic response, and what, or can we, or should we be learning from other countries at this moment in time?

Dr. Barbe: So, Dr. Bailey addressed that a little bit. Our structure of government, and the way we approach what government does in this country is considerably different than in many other countries. And I'm from Missouri, that's the "Show Me State." I think many in our population have said, "Show me the evidence." Well, we have done that. Physicians have led with the science, but even at that, there have been many who have been skeptical, who have some distrust of government. And irrespective of which side of the aisle the information comes from, those on the other side tend to hold it in suspect. So we tend to not just fall into place, and we're not like lemmings in this country. And it has been a real challenge. It has really caused us to struggle to implement some of the very important public health policies that can curb this pandemic.

Unger: Well, finally, each of you are very, very strong physician leaders who have been vocal throughout this pandemic. What's the final message that you have for other physicians, especially those that are looking to get more involved at the state, national, even international level? Dr. Harris, why don't you start.

Dr. Harris: Well, I would just say this is something that I learned early on. In fact, the last year of my residency training, is physicians have to be involved. There's no question. We have the unique opportunity to see the impact of policy on the front lines with our patients day to day. And we can take that information to policymakers, to legislators, to our other colleagues, and make sure that policy that is passed or legislated really adds to our ability to care for our patients and doesn't detract from that good ability to care for our patients.

Unger: Dr. Bailey?

Dr. Bailey: I think it's important for everyone to know that there are so many different ways to get involved and to make sure your voice is heard. Even though the WMA is an organization of national medical societies, it does have a branch where individual physicians can join. They're called associate members, and you can join and participate in their forums. The chair of that is Dr. Joe Heyman, a former AMA board chair and OB-GYN in Massachusetts. So, there's lots of ways to get involved.

Dr. Barbe: You know, when I talk to students and residents and physicians around the country, Dr. Harris, and Dr. Bailey, and I have had a great privilege to be the president of an organization like the AMA. That isn't where you start. You start at the ground level. You start in your communities, in your local medical societies, in your state medical societies, in your medical staffs. And that is critically important that your voice as a physician be expressed in those very local settings as well. And then, as you have the opportunity, you go into the larger arena. You go into a state from your county. You go into the AMA from your state or your specialty society. So it takes the entire federation of medicine and physician voices at every level to really have the impact that we need to, that we must, on the health system and health care in our country.

Unger: Well, thank you so much, Dr. Barbe, and again, congratulations. Thanks for being here today, as well, Dr. Bailey and Dr. Harris. We really appreciate it. That concludes today's COVID-19 Update. We'll be back soon with another segment. For resources on COVID-19, visit Thanks for joining us. Please take care.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed in this video are those of the participants and/or do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.

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