La Paz, Bolivia (3510 m)

Reflections on the organization of the Mountain (High Altitude)
Congresses around the world.

The philosophy behind the 1st World Congress on High Altitude Medicine and Physiology held in La Paz, Bolivia on Sept 12, 1994 was clear and simple. Everyone was given a chance to participate actively in the conference. After all, that is what the word “congress” stands for. That is, a group united to participate in a discussion. This was so democratic that when some expositors did not show up, empty spaces were filled with late applications to participate, and that included even last minute requests during the meeting! Besides, why throw away an empty 10 minutes! We put up a blackboard where these last minute changes were informed. Poster presentations were then placed as an alternative and voluntary option, but everyone was allowed at least 10 minutes to say his word. Whatever his point of view, unrestricted and freely. That is why 3 conference rooms were set up for simultaneous exposition.

This open, democratic and unrestrictive behavior, we believe permitted such a meeting to be as successful as it was. The presence and support of the most prestigious scientists like John B. West, Charles Houston, Bengt Kayser and others, was instrumental. After all we have gone around the globe, through La Paz, Bolivia; Cusco, Peru; Matsumoto, Japan; Arica, Chile and Barcelona, Spain. Our next stop is in Xining, Qinghai, China in 2004. 

Now, when we see the word “Faculty” in a Congress, we think more of a Seminar, or conferences or even more so a university. Incidentally, the word university was born from universal, where everyone was to participate but it has changed to be rather a high-level educational institution and that is fine and worthy of praise. Education is fine and there are plenty of places in the world where we can assist to courses. However a world congress is where we want everyone to have a chance to give his or her point of view, and to carry out unrestricted discussions. After all, no matter how profound our expertise is, we have something to learn from experience even from a grandmother or a child. Controversies and discussions are necessary and should be welcomed even between the truth and the false.

Furthermore, there should be no restrictions on the subjects to be treated. We cannot say that it is only dedicated to mountain sports, or only to clinical subjects, or only to basic high altitude biology. It can have a tendency, but there should be no restrictions on the high altitude themes to be exposed. Restrictions can only be applied when there is an over demand. But generally, restrictions fall into injustice and favoritism. This behavior reflects the insecurity and false position of some scientists and fortunately it exists in a small scale, but it has to be taken into consideration in order to avoid and correct it.

The other interesting aspect was that we did not make the world congress a propertied event. That is, we were not the owners of the event. When the idea first originated in La Paz, Bolivia we helped to give birth to the first event and then as good parents let it flow free into the world in a democratic way. It was meant to be a free child, not political, not subject to influences or groups, only open to science in all parts of the globe.

We invited the International Society of Mountain Medicine and the Wilderness Medical Society and they happily adhered and supported the 1st World Congress on High Altitude Medicine and Physiology. We are happy to know that the ISMM has leaded actively since then. We also see with satisfaction that the Wilderness Medical Society reappears in the 5th Congress. 

One further aspect we should consider. When we organized the first meeting, we curiously received “suggestions” and “advice” of whom we should not invite. But this went against the basic principles of its foundations and we disregarded them. Again, no one should be left out if they have something to say. Science is universal and should not be manipulated.

The participants of the congress, play the most important role. The organizers of the meeting act as administrators of the event, with scientific knowledge and great motivation. Their efforts are well recognized.

One last point. These high altitude congresses have been held every two years. As John West writes in the editorial of the last “High Altitude Medicine and Biology” issue, the congresses have been successful in all the countries. In the last congress in Barcelona there were plenty of attendees. Why change these meetings to every 4 years, considering that the number of participants will increase? There is a growing number of people interested in high altitude around the world. After all, scientific publications continue to increase exponentially in all fields of science. We see no reason to change the periodicity of every two years.

Besides, some of the most valuable scientists are facing their worst enemy: time and age. Lets help to keep their scientific enthusiasm and extraordinary production alive. As a side comment, Charlie Houston with his natural wisdom, once wrote us an e-mail and suggested that maybe these world congresses and the Hypoxia Meeting should be united.

Since countries with populations at high altitude are few, these high altitude congresses could be recycled, once all countries with mountains participate. For example, they could start again in Bolivia but in another city like the historic Potosí, where silver was extracted from the Cerro Rico, and innumerable stories about altitude illness were born with the arrival of the Spanish.

If we all want the future World Congresses on Mountain (or High Altitude) Medicine and Physiology to go on and be as successful or more so, we must adhere to the basic principles here outlined.

Prof.  Dr.  Gustavo Zubieta-Castillo (Sr)   & Dr.  Gustavo R. Zubieta-Calleja (Jr)

    1994                     1996                    1998                  2000                   2002

P.D. We appreciate your comments.
E-mail: zubieta@altitudeclinic.com

Internet: www.reocities.com/zubietaippa

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Copyright  April/20/2002  IPPA - La Paz, Bolivia