From the President: April 2020

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As I write this I wonder if the way we work has now changed forever. As the threat and spread of COVID-19 continues its path, disrupting lives everywhere, no-one can be sure what our world will look like afterwards. As a new disease, it is impossible for the scientists and public health specialists to accurately project the trajectory: they can only use the emerging evidence as it becomes available and update us on a regular basis. The way we work is increasingly dependent on immediate analysis of globally collected data.

As we listen to and take the advice of our public health colleagues, family doctors around the world have risen to the challenge of this awful pandemic. In the midst of the massively increased workload for family doctors, I am proud of the level of support and collegiality displayed within and across our Member Organisations and from region to region: it is heartening indeed. Colleagues are disseminating scientific advice, clinical updates, reflective messages and professional support through their social media links and connections. They are keeping in touch with each other regularly, like family members, relaying information, urging courage in these extraordinary times.

Social distancing, lockdown, isolation, all lead to the cancellation or indefinite postponement of many WONCA events and conferences. We depend on these events to carry out the business of our organization but also, perhaps more importantly, to maintain and grow our connections with our professional colleagues and friends. In the absence of these events, all available means are being used to link people through video conferencing and dissemination of clips. WhatsApp, Facetime, Zoom, WeChat, Skype, Go-To-Meeting are all being used to the full, for colleagues (and families) to maintain their connections. No doubt the adversity we are living through will prompt the innovative development of new and useful apps which have not previously even been thought of.

In very confusing and rapidly changing circumstances, up to date information is key. WONCA has created a webpage within the WONCA website, to host clinical advice, disseminate relevant articles, and share experiences. Use it and contribute to it. It is our shared COVID-19 platform, relevant to family medicine in the widest sense of the profession.

WONCA COVID-19 resources page

While the cancellation of WONCA events is a disappointment, and frustrating for organisers and potential participants, I urge all our members to use the connectivity at your disposal to maintain your group discussions, support and advice. We know already that we are facing unprecedented challenges for the foreseeable future, so we need to share our experiences, make sense of what we can and look forward to a less frightening future.

When the virus has been successfully tackled and brought under control, our worlds will no doubt return to something like our previous normality. But some things will have changed forever. Our patients will have different fears, anxieties and expectations. Our social interaction may be modified forever. Travel across borders may not be so straightforward as previously. Normality will be altered.

We have some way to go before we get through this. By all projections available, the virus will continue to affect our world until at least the end of 2020, with peaks of incidence at different times in different countries, and re-infection now a known possibility. This is a pandemic with an unknown endgame. I wish each and every one of our family doctors well during this time. Use the best advice available. Work collaboratively with your teams. Do the best you can for your patients. You should stand proud of your contribution to tackling this world crisis.

Donald Li