Eric Krakauer, Mary Callaway, Kathy Foley, Liliana de Lima, Faith Mwangi-Powell and Lukas Radbruch
According to the United Nations Charter, “the highest attainable standard of health” is a fundamental human right. Continuing education of healthcare providers is essential to fulfillment of this right. Yet Schengen and North American countries make it impossible for many clinicians from low-income countries (LICs) to access continuing education by attending international medical meetings. Clinicians from poor countries simply cannot obtain visas.
This week, for example, the European Association for Palliative Care is holding its biennial conference in Prague, Czech Republic. In the past two weeks, I have heard from three of my junior colleagues from LICs, two of whom had abstracts accepted for presentation, that they are unable to obtain visas. Even if their visa applications were not rejected summarily, the bureaucratic hurdles were so high that they were tantamount to outright denial. As a result, three remarkable physicians who are dedicated to raising the standard of health in their countries are not in Prague. A quick, informal survey of our American and European colleagues who work in LICs revealed that dozens of clinicians they know from the developing world have experienced similar exclusion. This happens despite conference organisers doing their best to assure that colleagues from LICs can obtain visas by requesting help from immigration officials in the country where the conference will be held and by providing detailed information to colleagues in LICs on how and when to apply for a visa.
We request that Schengen and North American countries end the unethical and inhumane practice of de facto denying visas routinely to clinicians from LICs who have been accepted to attend medical meetings or pursue postgraduate medical training in their countries. Specifically, we request that the Foreign Ministries of these countries provide to organisers of medical conferences and postgraduate medical training open letters on request that support the visa applications of clinicians from LICs who have been accepted by a medical conference or medical training programme. We also request that the Foreign Ministries send this letter on request to the embassies or consulates that will process each visa application.
Allowing the sharing of medical knowledge and experience with colleagues from LICs seems like the least rich countries can do to promote the health of the global poor.