From the CEO's desk: recent and future meetings

The end of yet another year! I’m sure Einstein’s theory of relativity must offer an explanation, but time definitely goes faster as you get older!

The past few weeks have been extraordinarily hectic ones for WONCA, and many of us are looking forward very much to a quiet time with family and friends over the forthcoming break. Of course for many it is not a holiday time – including for the Secretariat staff – but I’m sure they won’t begrudge us the chance to rest and to re-charge our batteries in preparation for a very busy 2016.

Last month I reported on the latest face-to-face meeting of the WONCA Executive, held in Istanbul just prior to the WONCA Europe conference. After Istanbul I travelled to Geneva to take part in two meetings at WHO HQ. The first was on cardiovascular disease and the second was on ageing and health.

Cardiovascular disease

We were reminded at the meeting that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the ‘Number 1’ cause of death globally, and that over three quarters of CVD deaths take place in low- and middle-income countries. Of course people in low- and middle-income countries often do not have the benefit of integrated primary health care programmes for early detection and treatment, so they are often detected later in the course of the disease and die younger. The poorest people in low-and middle-income countries are affected most, and CVD is a key cause of poverty in these people due to catastrophic out-of-pocket expenditure.

There was considerable discussion about how best to reduce the burden of CVD. “Best buys” – very cost effective interventions which can be implemented even in low resource settings – have already been identified. These include such issues as comprehensive tobacco control policies; taxation to reduce the intake of foods high in fat, sugar and salt; building facilities such as walking and cycle tracks to encourage physical activity; strategies to reduce the consumption of alcohol; and providing healthy school meals to school children.

I was heartened by the explicit recognition among all the experts present that primary health care had a really pivotal role to play in detection and management of these conditions, though I also pleaded for greater consensus among the many different organizations represented about clearer guidelines and protocols.

Ageing and Health

The second meeting was on ageing and health, and was timed to coincide with the launch of the first “World report on ageing and health”, produced by Dr John Beard and his colleagues from the Ageing and Life Course Division of WHO.

Populations around the world are ageing rapidly, but there is actually very little evidence to suggest that increasing longevity is being accompanied by extended periods of good health. The report is built around a re-definition of healthy ageing that centres on the notion of functional ability, and it makes clear that this will not be achieved simply by doing more of what is already being done. What is needed is to redevelop systems to ensure coverage of integrated services without financial burden, that are centred on the needs and rights of older people, and to deliver care built around a common goal of functional ability.

Of course primary health care has a key role to play in delivery of these more person centered and integrated models of care, and – as in the CVD meeting – there was clear recognition of the importance of primary health care / family medicine in achieving the goals of the report. WONCA had contributed comments to the original drafts of the report, so has been involved in the development from a fairly early stage, and it was good to be mentioned on several occasions, with John Beard explicitly stating the importance of ever-closer collaboration with WONCA on issues of ageing and health.

The report is available on the WHO website and I encourage you to read through it


We now look forward to the many events planned for 2016. The world conference in Rio de Janeiro is the “must-attend” event of the year, but there are also a number of regional conferences and events which deserve our support. I want to finish by highlighting four events in particular:

South Asia Region conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka, from 11th to 14th February

Eastern Mediterranean Region conference in Dubai, 17th to 19th March

WONCA CIMF Summit and Mesoamerican conference in San Jose, Costa Rica from 12th to 17th April

Europe Region conference in Copenhagen from 15th to 18th June.

May I finish by sending greetings from all of us at the WONCA Secretariat to all our members across the globe. We wish you all a Happy New Year for 2016 and look forward to meeting as many of you as possible at the various events throughout the year.

Dr Garth Manning