Rural Round Up: Taking the Rural Alma Ata forward in Seoul

Photo: The WONCA Rural Council met in Delhi in April.

John Wynn-Jones, Chair of the WONCA Working Party on Rural Practice writes:

Our 15th World Rural Health Conference last April in Delhi seems such a long way now as we find ourselves preparing for another WONCA Conference, the 22nd WONCA World Conference which will be held in Seoul from October 17 to 21. Unlike previous world congresses, the Rural WONCA Council met at our Delhi conference. This gives us the opportunity to devote our time to meeting with other Working Parties and Special Interest Groups and promoting rural issues across the WONCA Family.

I still find it difficult to believe that a cross cutting discipline, which impacts on the work of all the other groups in WONCA , still has such limited global impact. This is despite the fact that half the world’s population is rural and compared with the world’s urban population, it is older, poorer, carries the highest burden of disease and has the lowest access to health and social care. The International Labour Organisation in its 2015 report Universal “Health Protection: Progress to date and the way forward’ quoted that “56% of those living in rural areas worldwide are not covered by basic health care against 22% in cities and towns” and went on to state that “The rural-urban divide was omnipresent from the richest countries down to the poorest countries”

With the 40th anniversary of the Declaration of Alma Ata, I find it difficult to believe that the draft conference declaration for the WHO Global Conference on Primary Care, “Towards Health for All” to be held in Astana, Kazakhstan in October, fails to acknowledge the challenge that rural and isolated communities will pose for Universal Health Coverage. The word rural does not even appear in the document. It’s clear that much more needs to be done to address this inequity and we have to change gear to ensure that the brave new world of Universal Health Coverage acknowledges and prioritizes rural and isolated communities.

I was delighted to find that our own rural response to the Alma Ata anniversary, the Delhi Declaration has been put up on the WHO website. It is our manifesto for change, but we need to establish ways of getting the messages and solutions across to fellow professionals, policy makers and governments if we are to take it forward.

Let’s make a commitment at Seoul to promote rural issues whenever possible and make a plan that we can all take home with us. As citizens of our respective countries we must lobby and influence our own policy makers and politicians and as global citizens lets work together, share ideas, promote good practice and make a difference.

There will be a meeting of WONCA Working Party on Rural Practice on the afternoon of 17th October (13.30 P.M. – 17.30 P.M. Room: E2 / 3 Floor at the convention centre). I will be sending a brief agenda out soon, but we want to keep it informal. Everyone with an interest in rural practice is welcome. Please engage with us and come and share your ideas and concerns. Let’s use it to promote the Delhi Declaration and create our own Alma Ata aspirations.

The conference programme has over 17 rural workshops and many more rural presentations. Our request to label all rural activities in the programme was sadly turned down. I will be sending the finalised programme out next week. Karen Flegg will be putting it in WONCA News or you can come and visit us at the exhibition. I look forward to meeting old friends in Seoul and making new contacts.

Rural workshops programme
Finally, I am delighted to share with you, the news that Ewen McPhee (pictured right) has been elected as the President Elect of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine ACRRM). Ewen has been a member of the Council of our Working Party for a number of years. He has been a wonderful advocate of Rural Health and Rural Practice both in Australia and around the world. Among his many valuable contributions, he has made a major impact with his work with social media and digital health. We wish him every success.