Mountain Medicine, UIAA

The UIAA Medical Commission is world-renowned for its commitment to providing advice to a wide range of mountain enthusiasts, from experienced climbers and medical professionals to those whose pursuit is more tourism, including people going on an expedition for the first time. While a significant number of topics cover issues which are especially prevalent at high altitude, the papers cover a number of subjects which make essential reading for all those visiting mountain areas.

Earlier this year MedCom updated its paper on water disinfection in the mountains and more significantly published an accompanying video designed to relay the key information in a more dynamic, accessible way.

The UIAA Medical Commission would like to offer the climbing community future video content related to medical advice in the mountains and is seeking funding to support such projects. Should you wish to partner the production of any videos or make a donation please visit the dedicated Donate page or contact Carol Kahoun at the UIAA Office, carol.kahoun@theuiaa.org

MedCom continues to work on updating a number of its existing papers to ensure they reflect developments in science, travel, technology and respond to feedback and questions from climbers, mountaineers and related organizations.

A summary of upcoming MedCom deliverables is provided below.

Women’s Health Advice Paper

MedCom has two current recommendation papers specifically targeted at women, namely to address Women Going to Altitude (Vol 12) and Contraception and Period Control at Altitude (Vol 14). In recent months and through the work of UIAA MedCom members in association with external experts in the field, a Working Group (WG) has been revising these two papers considering the most up-to-date research. The female-led WG has spent countless hours this year alone to review and discuss various aspects of women’s health in the mountains with the aim of providing updated reference information about female-specific health concerns. Topics range from physiology and performance to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and from pregnancy to post-menopausal issues to only name a few. Two new chapters are intended to round up the advice, namely on psychology and nutrition. A first draft will be circulated within the Commission by the end of the year and should be available for the climbing and mountaineering community in early 2022.

Pediatrics Paper

Back in 2008, and around the same time the papers targeted at women were released, MedCom published a recommendation on Children at Altitude (Vol 9). While altitude travel is without incident for most, some children develop symptoms that may be attributed to altitude exposure. The paper provides recommendations that should be helpful for mountaineers and physicians who are required to offer advice about ascent to high altitude with children. In recent discussions of the Medical Commission and due to international interest in the topic, delegates and experts are looking to provide an updated version of the recommendations in the coming years. As part of the first step and throughout 2022, it will be important to review the most recent research available in the field to provide helpful advice and guidance to travelling to the mountains with children. The MedCom working group is looking to kick-start the project before the year ends and provide updated advice towards the end of 2022.

Training Course in South Africa

Many countries offer regular courses in mountain medicine. The medical commissions of the UIAA and ICAR, together with the International Society for Mountain Medicine (ISMM) established minimal requirements for a formal diploma course in August 1997 (Interlaken, Switzerland). Many course organisers adopted these standards and the resulting Diploma in Mountain Medicine (DiMM) has become a widely respected qualification. The regulations have been updated to reflect developments in mountain medicine, and to ensure that the high standard of the DiMM is maintained. It is the intention of the UIAA Medical Commission to bring these courses and training opportunities to all parts of the world, and possibly where such courses are not on offer yet. In 2022, MedCom is planning to run a dedicated course alongside its annual meeting, scheduled to be held in South Africa. It is due to take place in Stellenbosch with the intent to cover topics specific to the needs of the country.

Mountaineering practice and thus mountain medicine widely depends on local traditions and customs. Fully qualified UIAGM/IFMGA guides will oversee the content of the mountaineering elements of the diploma, while UIAA Medical Commission delegates will lead the sessions on medical practices. Topics usually cover basics from altitude and its illnesses, to exercise physiology, hypothermia and frostbite, but range all the way to heat and solar radiation, infection control, water safety and more. The Diploma in Mountain Medicine qualification can only be awarded to health care professionals registered with a national professional regulatory body (physicians, paramedics, nurses, etc.).

An exact date, syllabus and degree of the qualification have yet to be determined and will be communicated as soon as possible.

Further Reading

For further details on the UIAA Medical Commission’s valuable work including direct access to its high-altitude advice papers please click here.

Main photo credit: Grajales Expeditions