From the President: World Health Assembly

Photo: Donald Li and Anna Stavdal with Søren Brostrøm, Director of Health Services, Denmark, who told WHA that ‘family doctors are the heroes of the health service’.

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World Family Doctor Day, regional conferences and consultations, and World Health Assembly. Last month was extra busy for WONCA. Much appreciation to all of those who participated so enthusiastically across the globe in events to celebrate World Family Doctor Day. It is good to see doctors (and their patients) take such pride in the work we do.

World Health Assembly (WHA) was the usual hectic time, with meetings and side events to attend and to participate in. The WONCA delegation of me; President-Elect, Anna Stavdal; CEO, Garth Manning; and WONCA-WHO Liaison, Viviana Martinez-Bianchi; had a tight schedule of meetings. We met, individually and as a group, with officials from WHO and other agencies and organisations, representing the range of interests of our organisation. We also participated in a number of side events, which are an important feature of World Health Assembly.

Of particular note was the side event on ‘Primary Health Care towards Universal Health Coverage and SDGs’, with Health Ministers from 10 different countries presenting. WONCA members will be delighted to hear that WONCA was well represented at the side event! I was honoured to be a panellist at the event, where I spoke about the importance of Family Medicine as the tool to achieve comprehensive primary care leading to Universal Health Coverage. Our WONCA-WHO Liaison was invited to speak and Ana Nunes Barata, our Young Doctor Movement representative on Executive, was invited to offer a younger perspective on the issue. Ana was attending WHA at the invitation of WHO, as part of the Young Leaders’ Hub.

We met with the PHC Workforce team, accompanied by Bruce Chater, the incoming Chair of the WONCA Working Party on Rural Health, who are making very constructive contributions to ‘Solving rural workforce shortages’. Bruce was at WHA at the invitation of Jim Campbell who leads the WHO workforce team. Bruce joined the WONCA delegation for a number of other meetings and social events.

The WONCA delegation was pleased to meet with the Young Leaders’ Hub and to have a coffee and catch-up with members of the International Federation of Medical Student Associations (IFMSA), with whom we regularly correspond. The future of family medicine depends on our students and young doctors taking on the baton for delivering high quality primary care services in the future. Encouraging students and young doctors to make family medicine their career choice is an important role for all of us who know the value of the ongoing doctor-patient relationship.

Between us, the WONCA delegation made very good use of our time in Geneva, having face to face meetings with our primary care and UHC counterparts, including the newly appointed Executive Director of UHC and Life Course, Dr Peter Salama. Pete told us about the newly established ‘primary care special programme’ made up of an ‘agile’ multidisciplinary group addressing the multitude of issues which impact on implementation of comprehensive primary care. This is a welcome development in WHO, which has a history of addressing issues in professional silos.

WONCA’s relationship is well established with the related groups in WHO of Disaster Risk Reduction and Disaster Management. We had very productive discussions with both Dirk Horemans and Jonathan Abrahams about the potential for disaster preparedness being incorporated in family medicine training programmes. We also discussed the potential for primary care being incorporated into community-based disaster planning, since the primary care teams, already working together, would be able to slot into the emergency response.

We had a number of meetings with the full WHO primary care team, including Shannon Barkley, whom many of you will know from the last WONCA World Conference. We wish Shannon a safe delivery as she goes on maternity leave immediately after WHA. During Shannon’s maternity leave, the reins will be taken up by another friend of WONCA, Katherine Rouleau of the Besrour Centre and University of Toronto, also known to many of our members. We wish Katherine well in her temporary post – and we will be in regular contact on a range of issues!

Donald Li
WONCA President