From the President: The Final Column

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By the time WONCA News November edition is published, all of us will be making final preparations for our World Council meeting and our Conference. The few weeks before Council can sometimes be relatively quiet – all the hard work of preparing the agenda and ensuring papers are ready to be sent to our Member Organisation representatives has already happened. This Council meeting is different to all previous WONCA Council meetings and we have to assume that arrangements will still be getting tweaked right up to the day of the meeting, to ensure that it runs smoothly.

This is my final column as President. It has been an interesting and eventful Presidency:  with far fewer travels to national and regional conferences but far more interaction with national and regional colleagues through virtual meetings. We were lucky that our Executive had the opportunity to meet in person twice in 2019, before the pandemic. But as all of you will be very aware from your own experiences, meeting virtually is simply not the same and not as effective as face-to-face meetings. 

I want to thank those Executive members who supported the governance and conventions of WONCA – and, in doing so, supported me as President and Anna Stavdal as President-Elect. Being open to change is a strength in an organisation; paying respect to the Organisation’s history and ethos is equally important. The role of President calls for leadership; to accommodate, to direct, to mitigate, to be inclusive, to try to understand the different cultures and values of representatives coming from all over the world, and to ensure that the work of WONCA carries on despite upsetting moments. I urge members of the incoming Executive not to lose sight of the reasons behind our Bylaws and Organisational Policies. As the regional Presidents and Members At Large elected by all our Member Organisations undertake their roles on your behalf, I also urge our incoming Executive to respect the offices of President and President-Elect.

During the course of my Presidency the world changed and we changed with it. We responded to the pandemic by trying new and different ways of ensuring our patients got the care they needed. Most routine illnesses and diseases did not simply stop during the pandemic – though there was less uptake of services as people and health systems prioritized those who had COVID-19. Chronic illnesses and diseases continued and some were made worse by the isolation required to protect people from the worst effects of COVID. The backlog of patients with unspecified or undiagnosed illnesses and diseases is only slowly becoming apparent – and this is the next challenge to face us as family doctors. Some of our new ways of working are working well and will become part of our normal practice. Others are less successful or less appreciated. We need to manage both our resources and our patients’ expectations during the coming months.

As an organization, one of WONCA’s greatest strengths is its ability to quickly share experience, research and practice among all our members. The extent to which individuals get involved in WONCA is entirely up to each member. I am really delighted to report that our engagement levels soared during the worst of the COVID pandemic and I hope that the value of that engagement will encourage continued collaboration into the future. Sharing and developing skills, resources and research findings – and undertaking collaborative research across nations and regions – feeds into the evidence supporting expansion of comprehensive primary care.

The ability of the Coronavirus to mutate means that we will never return to our previous world. We will continue to adapt to meet the needs of a changed world. We know our patients are, on the one hand, keen to return to relative normality and, on the other hand, many are anxious about the threats and risks posed by exposure through more normalised activity. The hesitancy to fully resume normal life is understandable for many: the urge to do so equally understandable. We will develop ways to manage the differing approaches and to acknowledge that different ways of delivering comprehensive primary care are necessary.

Our World Council, as agreed at our Extraordinary General Meeting of Council in June this year, will be completely virtual. This is not what any of us wanted – we may as well acknowledge that. But we will make the best of it. As we meet across three days – from 19th to 21st November, between 10.00 and 15.00 UTC – I encourage our Member Organisations to participate as much as possible. This is your Council. All Member Organisation official representatives were sent on, 19th October, the agenda and papers (with links to relevant video presentations). Your involvement is key to our work for the coming biennium. I look forward to meeting with you, albeit virtually, during Council and I look forward to a productive few days. I also look forward to our virtual Conference, immediately after Council, where we can look forward to a range of insightful and inspirational talks and sessions. I will not be able to mingle and greet you as I would have done in usual circumstances of Conference. But please be assured that I appreciate your support and I wish all of you well, as I come to the end of an unforgettable Presidency. 

Dr Donald Li,
WONCA President