From the President January 2019

Photo: Donald Li at the First Global Forum on Heat and Health

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December might be holiday season for some but not for WONCA! We have been busier than ever.

After the Astana conference, we have continued to liaise closely with WHO to review our engagement with them, and to develop further collaborations on a range of issues. This will include, of course, implementation of Universal Health Coverage and the need for a strong primary care team, with a family doctor to provide integrated care. There has been significant progress in terms of recognition of the importance of family medicine to achieve the goal of Universal Health Coverage – we will report further as concrete details of collaborations are agreed.

An issue of growing concern and importance is climate change and its potential impact on our patients and communities. Alan Abelsohn, a past chair of the WONCA Working Party on the Environment and consultant to WHO on environmental issues, participated on our behalf at a high level meeting in WHO headquarters in early November.  You can read his report here.

Separately Alice McGushin was actively representing WONCA at the recent climate change global conference in Katowice, Poland, where she was a panelist.

On the same subject of climate change, by the time you read this update I will have presented at the First Global Forum on Heat and Health, in Hong Kong (17-20 December), where I was a speaker and a moderator of a scientific session. I presented on the important role to be played by family doctors in risk reduction and preparedness.

Family doctors are at the frontline of protecting health – so we need to understand the relationship between environmental change and emerging health risks. We are also one of the most trusted sources of information in communities, so we are in a unique position to communicate and understand the shifting landscape of planetary health risks. We know that increased temperature can create conditions particularly suitable for the spread of malaria, zika virus, dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever and lyme disease. And we know that non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, chronic lung diseases, obesity, diabetes and cancer account for three quarters of global mortality – and all of these are sensitive to environmental variables including air, water and land pollution, climate change and rising temperatures, and changes in our food systems.

We are indeed fortunate to have a very active Working Party on the Environment, who will keep us alerted to the key issues for our practices and our patients. Indeed, the WP on the Environment has developed training programmes for family doctors on air health – air quality and its impact on respiratory, cardiovascular and other health issues. (As an example of the importance of this issue, it is estimated that men in Dehli are likely to have their lives shortened by 10 years, as a result of air pollution). The air health training programme is currently being piloted in Ghana and Brazil and will be rolled out on a larger scale once funding has been secured.

In mid December, WONCA participated in a WHO global technical consultation on strengthening national health security, where I had the opportunity to have discussions with WHO’s Health Security Lead, Mr Ludy Suryantoro. We identified numerous areas of potential collaboration and will pursue these early in 2019. I will keep you posted on developments.

In January 2019, Dr Viviana Martinez-Bianchi (our WHO Liaison person), Dr Anna Stavdal (our President-Elect) and I will participate in the WHO’s Executive Board meeting. We are currently planning a series of meetings at policy and technical levels, to facilitate even greater collaboration between the world’s family doctors and WHO.

As we enter a new year, there are exciting times ahead. I wish you a happy and successful 2019 and I look forward to meeting many of you during the year at numerous WONCA events.

Donald Li
WONCA President.