Dr Innocent Besigye - Montegut Scholar report on WONCA Africa conference

The Montegut Global Scholars Program (MGSP) was established by the American Board of Family Medicine Foundation (ABFM-F) in 2010, to foster international education, research and collaboration, in the specialty of family medicine. Dr Innocent Besigye, General Secretary Association of Family Physicians of Uganda, was one of three recipients of a Montegut Scholarship to attend the recent WONCA Africa region conference. Scholarships for 2018 will enable attendance for one scholar from each WONCA region at the WONCA World conference in Seoul - applications close April 20, 2018
More about the Montegut Global Scholars Program

Attending the WONCA Africa region conference 2017 in Pretoria was memorable.

Report by Dr Innocent Besigye

Photo: Dr Innocent Besigye (on the right) with other Montegut Scholars, Joy Mugambi and Wechuli Geofrey, both from Kenya.

Attending conferences in Africa is difficult in most cases due to lack of funding. This is even worse with international conferences due to exorbitant amounts of money for air travel another difficult issue in Africa. I was privileged to be offered the Montegut scholarship for the WONCA Africa region 2017. The scholarship enabled me to attend the WONCA Africa regional conference. It was a big learning experience!

I had the opportunity to participate in the Young Doctors’ Movement (Afriwon) preconference activities. I was privileged to be one of the speakers on day one. My topic of discussion was Family Physicians Identity: Evolving roles in a Multi-Cultural society. It was enriching to share with fellow young doctors on the African continent where Family medicine is struggling to take root amidst a substantial number of challenges. This was a timely opportunity given that I had just finished analyzing the results of my study on the roles and challenges of Family Physicians in Uganda. Important to note was the presence of the WONCA World President, Prof Amanda Howe, in the audience!

We had a highly experiential and educative exchange activity focusing on Community-oriented Primary Care (COPC) on the second day. We were hosted by the department of Family Medicine at the University of Pretoria. At the end of the exchange, we had a highly educative presentation by Tessa Marcus, the lead principal investigator of the COPC project at the University of Pretoria. She offered us a free copy of her book titled: A Practical Guide to Implementation of Community-Oriented Primary Care. I have read this book from beginning to end and it is very insightful! I am now using this book to teach the residents at Makerere University the COPC course.

Photo: Innocent Besigye (in blue checked shirt at the center of photo behind kneeling participant) in a photo with other participants and Community Health Workers during the COPC exchange

The main WONCA Africa conference began on the third day. I enjoyed the keynote speeches, oral and poster presentations. I met quite a number of friends both old and new during the conference. I had to opportunity to attend several meetings of various groups involved in the development of family medicine and primary care on the African continent and beyond.

The first day of the conference began with a very moving keynote speech on the social determinants of health by Prof Shan Naidoo from Wits School of Public Health. His talk focused on “The Health Gap: What does it do to treat sick people only to send them back to the conditions that made them sick”. I enjoyed the talk given that I am always faced with recurrent sickness among my patients as a result of the social determinants of health. He clearly stated that many family physicians feel that they are unable to make effective changes to any of the social determinants of health for their patients and their communities which they serve, and are often frustrated by their inability to make a real difference to the health of the populations they serve. He concluded the talk by reminding us that we should strive to achieve universal health coverage without forgetting to look beyond the patient that presents to us and looking to the social determinants that make them sick. The only way is to think outside the box and develop innovative solutions to address these social determinants of health.

Then followed Prof Amanda Howe the WONCA president. She informed the participants that family doctors directly address social determinants of health in their daily work in three ways; through active engagement with preventive health measures in their practices, through working with others in addressing broader community and public health needs and through efforts to achieve equitable health care especially for those who are most disadvantaged. She noted that family doctors need sufficient systems to support their efforts in promoting the social determinants of health.

Prof Jan de Maeseneer discussed twenty years of the Primafamed network, highlighting the major achievements. He concluded the presentation wondering how the sustainability of the network will be financed given that many countries are restricting funding for programs in Sub Saharan Africa.

I presented my own poster in the afternoon about the contribution of family medicine towards undergraduate medical training in Sub Saharan Africa, a publication we made on the reflections of the Primafamed network. I gained a lot of insight into what is happening on the African continent concerning the contribution of family medicine towards undergraduate medical training/curricula from the discussions and reflections of the participants who attended my poster presentation. Together with other colleagues, we hope to continue documenting the role/actual contribution of family medicine to undergraduate medical training as a way of scaling up family medicine in Africa.

I attended a couple of workshops more notably the one by the WONCA Working Party on Research and the other on research writing and publication. As a young researcher and upcoming academic, I learnt a lot from these two workshops. I learnt how to formulate a research question for primary care research and the steps one goes through from proposal writing to publishing a research paper.

I ended the conference by having a meeting with the WONCA Africa Region President Elect, Prof Shabir Moosa, where we agreed on a roadmap of hosting the WONCA Africa Region conference 2019 in Uganda, as I will be chairing the scientific committee for this conference.

I am very grateful to WONCA and the American Board of Family Medicine Foundation (ABFM-F) for offering me the opportunity to attend the WONCA Africa region conference. It was a memorable experience full of learning and networking opportunities.