Address to the members of the Irish College of General Practitioners

June 30, 2014

WONCA President's address to the members of the Irish College of General Practitioners, Kilkenny, Ireland, 27 June 2014

My thanks to the members of the Irish College of General Practitioners for inviting me to deliver this address. 

Like about 30% of Australians, I can claim to be of Irish descent.  One of Australia's former Prime Ministers, Bob Hawke, liked to claim that, "apart from Ireland, Australia is more Irish than any other country". It is true that more Irish people have emigrated to the United States than to Australia; but, as a proportion of the population, Bob claimed that the percentage of people of Irish descent is higher in Australia than elsewhere.

My great-great-great-grandfather was born in Cork on 21st October 1815.  His name was Henry Nelson Bride.  I am told it was very unusual for an Irish Catholic to be named after Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson but Henry was born on the tenth anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar and I suppose his parents got carried away.  The Nelson name has carried down through the generations and I am thankful I escaped it.

Henry was a surveyor and his eldest son, my great-great-grandfather, John, was “sent to the Colonies” by his family when he was aged 17. Family legend says that young John was articled as a clerk in Cork with an architect named Sir John Benson.  Young John disgraced himself one day when he got angry and threw a hair brush at Sir John, hitting him on the back of the head. Young John’s parents were not impressed and he was shipped off to Melbourne to “learn how to behave himself”.  Quite a severe penalty for a misbehaving teenager.  Two years later he was joined by his parents and his six brothers and baby sister who all emigrated to Australia in1850 during the Great Famine.

Young John and his seven siblings were highly fertile and now have thousands of descendants strewn across Australia.  You may wonder how I know so much about my Irish roots.  It is a reflection of the profound impact that migration has on a family and the tales which then pass down through the generations.

On this visit to Ireland I had hoped to travel down south to Cork and then on to Skibbereen to visit my predecessor as WONCA President, Michael Boland and his wife Susan. I want to speak a little about Michael Boland’s legacy to WONCA, our World Organization of Family Doctors, and through him, some of the contributions the Irish College has been making to our global organization over the years.

Like many members of our WONCA family, I have very fond memories of Michael, his inspired leadership of our global professional body, his talents as a teacher, and his warmth and great generosity towards so many of the younger members of our profession.

The Irish College of General Practitioners was established in 1984 and two years later Michael joined the World Council of WONCA representing Ireland.  Michael quickly became a leader in WONCA and in 1998 was elected as president-elect, taking on the role of WONCA President in 2001. At that time, WONCA represented 65 countries, but over the course of his presidency that number reached 100.

I remember Michael's passion as president for the role that WONCA could play in tackling some of the world's great health challenges, especially smoking and HIV/AIDS, and this is something I am also trying to do during my three years as president. Indeed our WONCA executive has set itself a number of Key Performance Indicators so that we can see how we are measuring up.

These include increasing the number of countries involved with WONCA and doing all we can to assist local family doctors in establishing their own national colleges dedicated to high standards of clinical care and education and training. 

And it includes establishing Young Family Doctor organisations in each of the seven regions of the world.  You are familiar with the Vasco da Gama Movement established by young family doctors in Europe over a decade ago, and we have similar groups in the Asia Pacific, South Asia and South America. Over the last year we have seen the establishment of young family doctor organisations in Africa and the Middle East, and just last month in North America.

The third big area of attention is to increase the work that WONCA does with the World Health Organization both at a global level and at a regional level. 

WONCA represents family medicine at the World Health Organization (WHO).  Wes Fabb, our former WONCA CEO has written that we owe this to the work of Michael and his successor as WONCA president, Bob Higgins.

Back in 1998, Michael and Bob met with the then Director-General of the WHO, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, to discuss WONCA and family medicine.  Before becoming the leader of the WHO, Dr Brundtland had been Prime Minister of Norway, and before becoming Prime Minister of Norway, she had been a general practitioner in the public school health service in Oslo.  Michael and Bob received a good hearing from Dr Brundtland, and came away with the impression that there was an understanding of, and support for, family medicine at the WHO.

Together Michael and Bob developed a 'Memorandum of Understanding for Collaborative Activites' between WONCA and the WHO, and this has formed the basis of WONCA's continuing contribution to the global health work of the WHO. Thanks to to this initiative we now have a strong influence on the development of WHO policy for primary health care, and involvement in the rollout of many WHO programs in all regions of the world.

WONCA holds a world conference for family medicine every three years, and I well remember the great hospitality the members of the Irish College provided during our wonderful 1998 World Conference in Dublin, with the host organising committee led by Michael. At the time it was the largest global family medicine conference ever with over 4,000 participants and 1,000 accompanying persons.

Before the conference, the WONCA World Council met in beautiful Killarney on the banks of the Lakes of Killarney.  Michael and Susan organised a boat trip across the lake for the World Council members and, on the way back, a huge storm blew up and nearly capsized the boat.  That boat trip has become the stuff of legends.

I pay tribute to Michael Boland’s great service to our global organisation and for the influence his contributions have had on the course of so many lives, including my own.

And I pay tribute to you all.  The members of the Irish College of General Practitioners should be proud of the work you do together in ensuring that the people of this country have access to well trained and committed general practitioners and teams of primary care professionals. You have a great legacy in the contributions of Michael Boland and the many other past leaders of general practice in this country.  I know you will continue to uphold their high standards in everything you do.

Thank you.

Michael Kidd
WONCA President
27 June 2014
Kilkenny, Ireland