The Spice Route holds its first pre-conference

February, 2012

‘The Spice Route’ is the Wonca South Asia Region working group for new and future doctors who have an interest in family/ general practice. It aims to promote excellence in this field and to address the challenges pertaining to global health. The creation of this group was inspired by the work of similar Wonca groups for new and future family/ general practitioners around the world: the Vasco de Gama movement in Europe, the Rajakumar movement in the Asia- Pacific region, Waynakay in the Ibero- americana region, and NAFFDONA in the North America region.

The Spice Route was officially inaugurated at the Wonca South Asia /General Practitioners Association of Nepal (GPAN) conference, in Kathmandu, in December 2010. The Spice Route has just held its first pre- conference, in Mumbai, on December 16 2001, at the Wonca South Asia region /FFPAI (Federation of Family Physicians’ Associations of India) conference held in collaboration with the AFPI (Academy of Family Physicians of India). There was active participation from approximately 80 new and future family / general practitioners from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

The first The Spice Route pre- conference was inaugurated with words of blessing from senior colleagues, Prof Richard Roberts, Wonca President; Dr Preethi Wijegoonewardene, Wonca South Asia Region President; Dr Ramnik Parekh, FFPAI President; Prof Pratap Prasad, GPAN President; and Prof Kanu Bala, president of the Bangladesh Academy of Family Physicians.

Dr Raman Kumar, president of the AFPI and chairman of The Spice Route Movement gave a summative talk about the concept of movements for new and future family/ general practitioners, such as The Spice Route; and Dr Sonia Mehra gave on outline of the pre-conference programme. Representatives of the five countries present; Dr Piyush Jain of India, Dr Pramendra Prasad of Nepal, Dr Samreen Kausar of Pakistan, Prof Kanu Bala of Bangladesh, and Dr Deepama Sumanasekera of Sri Lanka, gave overviews of their country’s system of healthcare provision and the place of primary care within it, education and training systems for primary care, and challenges faced by new and future family/ general practitioners in their country. Though the South Asia region is rich in its diversity, there were similarities when it came to economic, social and cultural factors, as well as in terms of disease burden.

The Spice route members workshopping in Mumbai

All participants recognised the importance of a strong primary care to deliver the best possible services to their communities, especially for people with lower socio-economic status and for those in rural or remote areas.

Another common thread which emerged across the region is that family/ general practice does not seem to be given due recognition either by communities, policy makers and governments, or even the medical profession. It is therefore not generally an attractive career choice for medical graduates. This is further complicated by the difficulties in creating and maintaining a comprehensive, nationally and internationally recognised training programme for family/general practice in the region, to varying degrees.

Furthermore, it was on the whole felt that, compared to other specialities, there were sometimes few opportunities for family/general practitioners of the region to participate in meaningful continuing medical education activities, research and publication, or to develop leadership skills.

It was felt that The Spice Route’s challenges would be to uphold the following aims and objectives, which were modified from previous ones, thanks to feedback from the participants at the time of the pre-conference:
  • To improve education and training for young family physicians/ general practitioners in the South Asia Region.
  • To increase opportunities for new and future family physicians/ general practitioners to develop skills in:
    • family and general practice research
    • family and general practice publication
    • family and general practice presentations at national and international conferences
    • family and general practice exchanges
  • To give a platform for new and future family physicians/ general practitioners to share their concerns, doubts and aspirations and help to address them.
  • To encourage new and future family physicians/ general practitioners leadership through participation in The Spice Route’s executive structure.

Contact the spice Route

The Spice Route Secretary: 
Dr Sonia Mehra, [email protected]

The Spice Route National Liaisons:
Dr Bijay Raj, [email protected]
Dr Udit Thakker, [email protected]

Dr Seema Bhanji, [email protected]
Dr Samreen Kausar, [email protected] Nepal:
Dr Pramendra Prasad, [email protected]
Dr Sanjeeb Tiwari, [email protected]

Sri Lanka:
Dr Deepama Sumanasekera, [email protected] Bangladesh:
Dr Md Innamin and Dr Islam Bhuiyan [email protected]

Leading on from this discussion, small group workshops were held at the pre-conference to further discuss the Spice Route’s needs for future development:

  • Spice Route structure and communication channels workshop:
    • Strengthening of a core group of The Spice Route members and national representatives
    • Creation of a Facebook group (Spice Route Movement)
    • Creation of a website (to be announced)
    • Funding
    • Creating links with other countries in the South Asia region: Afghanistan, the Maldives and Bhutan, and with other groups such as Vasco de Gama, Rajakumar, NAFFDONA and Waynakay.
  • Education, training and faculty development
  • Comparative studies of education and training systems, and curricula within the region
  • Development of recommendations to senior organisations and policy makers
  • Research
    • Liaison with existing primary care research groups
    • The Spice Route platform for presentation at fu- ture pre-conferences, and publications in affiliated journals such as the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care
    • Research methodology workshops at future The Spice Route events
  • Exchange programmes
    • Organisation and funding of opportunities to learn from each other, first hand, at a national, regional and international level, including participation at Wonca conferences in the South Asia and other regions.

But let’s not forget that the pre-conference gave us all a chance to meet our friends, old and new, compare stories and an anecdotes, share experiences, and was also, after all, good fun...

We would recommend anyone who is interested in joining The Spice Route movement to contact us via The Spice Route Movement Facebook group, or via email to Dr Sonia Mehra, Spice Route Secretary: [email protected] or your national liaison person (see box).

Reported by Dr Nrutya Subramanyam (India) and Dr Sonia Mehra (UK)

Acknowledgments: Dr Piyush Jain, Dr Raman Kumar, Dr Bijay Raj, Dr Venkatesan Pandian, Mrs Vasumathi Sriganesh, Dr Uddit Thakker, Dr Navneet Gill, Dr Anita Goyal, Dr Mohit Gupta (India), Dr Samreen Kausar, Dr Seema Bhanji (Pakistan) , Dr Pramendra Prasad (Nepal), Dr Deepama Sumanasekera (Sri Lanka), Prof. Kanu Bala (Bangladesh).