International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War: A Nobel Peace Prize for service to mankind
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War is an international organization of doctors and medical sector employees awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for promoting competent information on the catastrophic consequences of atomic warfare.
IPPNW, currently a federation of organizations from 62 countries with over 200,000 members, is financed with private donations.
The organization was founded in 1980 by American and Soviet physicians determined to react to the Cold War realities in the world divided into two militarized camps poised on the brink of nuclear war. They decided that their common interest in survival was more powerful than the ideological divisions between them and realized that their obligation as physicians included a common commitment to the prevention of nuclear conflicts.
IPPNW Presidents were two of the organization’s founding fathers: the cardiologists Drs Bernard Lown of Harvard University and Yevgeniy Chazov of USSR’s Cardiological University. The project was also supported by Jim Muller, Eric Chivian, Herb Abrams, and Gabriel Sarmiento; they all met in Geneva in 1980 where they decided to establish an international organization bringing together physicians committed to preventing the nuclear threat. A year later, IPPNW’s first congress was held in USA’s Airlie, Virginia, participated by 80 doctors representing 12 countries. With each next such meeting the number of participants grew; over 4 years Lown and Chasov succeeding in affiliating to their peace movement more than 150,000 physicians from around the globe.
The organization has been campaigning against war, and nuclear weapons in particular, launching educational and media projects, publishing reports and books; it has also been organizing relief actions in the war- and conflict-stricken regions; establishing communication with politicians; and campaigning against nuclear tests. Moreover, it is committed to the environment, as well as to public health and social justice.
One of the first organization’s initiatives was to carry out a thorough research into the effects of the nuclear bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. IPPNW also analyzed data from test or production centres, such as US’s Nevada training range, the French Moruroa testing centre, or Russia’s Malyak nuclear centre, also known as Chelyabinsk-40 or Chelyabinsk-65. The goal was to provide the public opinion with the assessment of the health and environmental costs of pursuing security through nuclear weapons. The organization’s goal is to prevent such threats and introduce a total ban on nuclear arms.
The doctors sound a medical warning to humanity: that nuclear war would be the final epidemic; that there would be no cure and no meaningful medical response. In the words of former New Zealand’s Prime Minister David Lange (1984-89), ‘IPPNW made medical reality a part of political reality’.
Organization members prepare scientific and medical reports on the impact of nuclear threats and tests on physical and mental health of adults, children, and youth,
In 1984, during IPPNW’s fourth World Congress in Finland attended by physicians from 53 countries, a report titled ‘The Impact of Nuclear War on Children and Adolescents’ was presented. That very year, the organization was honoured with the UNESCO’s Peace Education Prize.
In 1985, IPPNW formulated a ‘Medical Prescription’ calling for a moratorium on nuclear testing. The 1991 report titled ‘Radioactive Heaven and Earth’ stemmed from the investigation of health and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons testing and production. The same year the organization’s congress held in Stockholm was attended by 1,300 physicians from 80 countries.
With time, the organization also became committed to other peace initiatives and relief actions. During the Gulf War, IPPNW sent its experts to the conflict zone to investigate the war effects; the organization additionally delivered tons of medical equipment and medication.
In 1992, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, IPPNW became committed to persuading the leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine to give up the nuclear potential located on their territories. Meanwhile, in Africa IPPNW-affiliated organizations began organizing relief actions for war victims in Somalia.
In 1995, the organization released its opus magnum, namely ‘Nuclear Wastelands’. The report was considered as the most comprehensive and reliable document on the devastating effect that nuclear weapons’ production launched 50 years earlier had on public health and the environment. In a report published a year later, IPPNW pointed to the danger of fissile material falling into the hands of terrorists. The organization’s 1997 report was dedicated to landmines whose use was defined as ‘a global health crisis’.
In the 1990s, IPPNW expanded its activism even further in order to prevent any type of military conflicts. The Aiming for Prevention campaign was created to concentrate on violence with the use of conventional weapons, the campaign’s instrumental force to be found in the organization’s sections from the so-called global south: Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southern Asia, namely from the regions whose substantial health care budget allocations are spent on treating violence and conflict victims.
Over the recent period, both IPPNW and its affiliated organizations have decided to draw the public opinion’s attention to health and environmental consequences of uranium mining and processing. In 2007, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons was launched; it has also been involved together with numerous NGOs in formulating the international convention to ban all weapons of mass destruction.
Furthermore, IPPNW supports and promotes all the scientific research meant to better understand relations between peace and public health.
The organization’s headquarters are located in Somerville, Massachusetts (USA), the European Office is in London, while the Polish section is Poznan-based.
Marta Fita-Czuchnowska (PAP)
On the 13th World Summit of the Nobel Peace Laureates the organization will be represented by:
Ira Helfand, MD is co-President of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize, and he is co-Founder and Past President of Physicians for Social Responsibility, IPPNW’s US affiliate. He has published studies on the medical consequences of nuclear war in the New England Journal of Medicine, and the British Medical Journal, and has lectured widely in the United States, and in India, China, Japan, Russia, Israel, and throughout Europe. He spoke at the 2013 Oslo conference on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear War. He is the author of Nuclear Famine: A Billion People at Risk.
Dr. Helfand was educated at Harvard College and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is a former chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine and President of the Medical Staff at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, and currently practices as an internist and urgent care physician at Family Care Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts.