President's Report: Triennium 2018 - 2021

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I think it is fair to say that this Presidency has been one of the most challenging times in WONCA’s history! When I took on the role in 2018, I anticipated numerous country and regional visits, to conferences and meetings; and participation in global events. My Presidency had to adapt rapidly with the onset of the global pandemic.

The past two years have surely been the strangest any of us have experienced. The entire world has been put to the test like never before in our lifetimes. The COVID 19 pandemic has displaced plans, accelerated the adoption of new ways of doing things, changed the way we consult with our patients and, as ever, has seen Family Doctors and General Practitioners on the front line, continuing to deal with diagnosis, treatment and care of our patients. Huge gaps became all too apparent in our readiness and preparedness for global health challenges. Faced with a global threat and many unknowns, all of us have had to adapt, both personally and professionally, during the pandemic. This affected all of our work and shifted our activities from physical presence and face to face encounters to online meetings and additional screen presence.

Over the years, our involvement with WHO has grown. We routinely field a senior WONCA team at annual World Health Assemblies; our Working Parties and Special Interest Groups are involved with WHO at global and regional levels; WONCA responds to multiple requests for input to WHO papers and events on a frequent basis – and often with a very quick response required. We appreciate that being asked for comments and inputs by WHO reflects the growing recognition within WHO of the need for comprehensive, qualified and accessible primary care delivery, to achieve the global goal of Universal Health Coverage. In 2018 and 2019 I was involved in a number of high level WHO meetings. In October 2018, along with the immediate past President, President-Elect, our Young Doctor representative on Executive and two Members At Large, I attended the launch of the Astana Declaration in Kazakhstan. And in January 2019, after increasingly detailed work between us, I was delighted to sign an MOU on behalf of WONCA with WHO. From previous surveys, we know how important our relationship and influence with WHO is for our members. So, it was also very encouraging to be asked to present on behalf of WONCA at a side event at the World Health Assembly in May 2019. Our collaboration with WHO continues and we continue to exert our influence on policy and implementation, particularly in relation to primary care-led health systems, primary care teams and Universal Health Coverage, as well as a broad range of issues through our Working Parties and SIGs.

In addition to my involvement in many WHO headquarters consultations, I was particularly pleased to be invited as a panellist on WPRO’s consultation on the future of primary care for WHO’s Western Pacific region. 
The pandemic has proven just how important it is to speak out at every opportunity and use our voices and our numbers to influence developing global health policies. During the pandemic I was honoured to be invited by WHO to participate in numerous consultations and to be featured in webinars to share the experiences of family doctors as part of the primary healthcare team.

Publications remain another voice that WONCA has used over the years and we continue to add to the WONCA series of publications on a number of topics including “How to do Primary Care Research”, “Primary Care Around the World”, and many others! 

Looking at the positive side of the pandemic and the online globalisation it provided, WONCA launched a series of Webinars which generated a truly surprising and inspiring response. We did not expect participation to be so high or to remain so consistently high, with people participating on various platforms and from all over the world. We were also pleased that WHO officials found the WONCA webinars so useful, with officers and advisors joining many of the sessions. The thirst for believable, trusted knowledge and sharing of experience was very obvious. Collaboration between our Working Parties and Special Interest Groups on topics which straddled various key issues was impressive. 

Our Working Parties and Special Interest Groups are the ground-breaking leaders within WONCA. The Working Party on eHealth has developed a dedicated assessment framework to evaluate digital health solutions from a family medicine perspective. The Working Party on Research has expertly addressed a wide range of issues of importance to the growth and development of family medicine globally. The Working Parties on Education and Quality and Safety have contributed both professional and academic standards and human resources to the two accreditation schemes. The range of topics covered by these groups is extensive and there is always room for people who are ready to offer their time and energy and expertise. I will leave each of them to speak for their achievements further in their reports.

In spite of all the challenges, our regions have taken the challenge of the pandemic to do things differently and have responded in diverse and innovative ways to support each other, to provide learning and sharing opportunities and to build collaborations across the primary healthcare professions. Regional conferences continued to be held. Many of them were well-attended, interactive, with pre-recorded and live streams running simultaneously. Timing, of course, was a challenge, when participants are living and working in multiple time zones. But the thread is the same: family doctors across the world are keen and enthusiastic about building and sharing knowledge; about meeting and refreshing relationships with their global colleagues and friends, albeit virtually.

Unfortunately, the pandemic did not allow for much travel, so for much of the time as WONCA President, I was unable to visit and attend conferences and meetings across the globe, meeting you face to face and enjoying the wealth of skills and commitment of our members. 

But before the pandemic hit, I travelled to speak at a number of conferences, including in Canada, Africa and South Asia. 

I enjoyed being interviewed by Domhnall MacAuley, the Editor of the British Journal of General Practice (BJGP) and have subsequently had an editorial published in BJGP. 

I was invited to speak at numerous conferences, sessions, and meetings, albeit virtually. It was a delight to see so much interaction continue, despite all the challenges. I delivered talks to the Royal Australian College of GPs; a semFYC conference in Spain; the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine; to the Masters in Family Medicine Programme at Edinburgh University, to the North America Research Group, WONCA Europe (on new technology), the Global Forum on Heat and Health, a number of planetary health conferences – and the new course, the TUFH conference (Towards Unity for Health), and the 4th International PHC conference in Qatar.

I delivered opening addresses, virtually, to the World Rural Health conference, the Africa region conference, to the American Academy of Family Physicians meeting, to the AfroPHC conference, the Greek College, the Philippine Academy, Allies Improving PHC, the new planetary health course, South Asia region conference, Spanish conference, Turkish Association, World Federation of Mental Health, World Psychiatric Association and the New Zealand College, the Chinese Medical Doctors Association, the Chinese Medical Association and the CrossStraits Medical Exchange Association.

I authored and co-authored numerous editorials and articles for Chinese, European and Hong Kong Journals.

I am proud to have taken part in a number of different projects that WONCA has worked on and further developed during my term. The continued progress of the WONCA Accreditation Schemes is particularly pleasing. They have been robustly tested, refined, and implemented. Both the Programme Accreditation scheme and the Practice Accreditation scheme are being well received and proving popular in academic departments and in individual practices. Assessments for accreditation continued remotely throughout the pandemic and will be followed up with face-to-face visits to confirm accreditation status, when circumstances allow. There are increasing numbers of users of the free-to-access guidelines available on the WONCA website, available to all our members, which are often used for internal quality development purposes. Our digital accreditation is now also available for newly developed platforms relating to primary care.

WONCA saw the end of an era at the end of 2020, with the retirement of WONCA’s long-time CEO, Garth Manning. I want to express my sincerest gratitude to Garth for his excellent work and commitment to the success of WONCA. We worked very closely together over the more than eight years of him being CEO. I know how much time, energy, and determination Garth has put into making WONCA what it is today. 2021 welcomed Harris Lygidakis who continued this important work, and picked up the baton from Garth, with the establishment of the new Secretariat in Brussels, Belgium. Garth and Harris worked closely for a number of months, to ensure a safe and secure handover of WONCA business.
In saying farewell to Garth, I also want to pay tribute to Nongluck Suwisith, outgoing CAO. Her love of WONCA and all things primary care-related were an inspiration. And I know we will miss seeing her and catching up with her at conferences. Thank you, Nongluck.

I am grateful to all of the Executive and especially to our President-Elect, Anna Stavdal, with whom I have worked so closely; to our current CEO, Harris Lygidakis, and the Secretariat team for their support. The move of the Secretariat from Bangkok to Brussels in the middle of pandemic was a challenge for both outgoing and incoming Secretariats and they handled it with real co-operation and collegiality. The new Secretariat continues to work hard in keeping the Organization functioning in such challenging circumstances.

Thank you to every colleague, your families and loved ones and your friends for showing their support during this term.