The first woman President - a personal world view from Rio

Prof Amanda Howe of the UK has just taken office as WONCA President, and is our first woman president. The handover occurred at the WONCA World conference in Rio in early November 2016. Pictured above are the new WONCA World Executive for 2016-18.

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I am writing this on the plane back to England from Brazil, where I spent three extraordinary weeks in the intense world of WONCA’s biggest event – the World conference, and all its related meetings and activities.

If you read no further then let me say – it was a wonderful experience, and I want to thank the many people involved: the Brazilian hosts, including the fantastic ‘Oceanos-Eventos’ team, the WONCA CEO and secretariat, and all those who offered work and attended. We marked the changes in leadership with fulsome praise for Professor Michael Kidd’s legacy as President, and thanked both the 2013-2016 and the incoming WONCA Executive for their hard work and efforts.

Family medicine is a sociable speciality – we are used to meeting people every day from many walks of life, and interacting with many different types of professionals who are involved in the delivery, administration and development of health care. But there is something uniquely wonderful about being together in our global community, and celebrating both our diversity and common purpose.

The Rio conference was particularly spirited and youthful because of the large numbers of local doctors who came – and danced – and sometimes gave voice to their concerns about the future of their hard-won health reforms and speciality status. We also saw a great emphasis on the arts as a source of renewal and creativity – poetry, photography, music, and short stories - also samba bands, and plenty of socialising. The keynotes, presentations and workshops all seemed to be of high quality, and there was a great mix of attendees from more than 113 countries.

The opportunity and effort both to run and attend our global conferences will accelerate with the move to a two yearly cycle – we look forward to Seoul in 2018, and to Abu Dhabi in 2020. But for this year, the party is over - we return to our clinics and families with renewed energy and ideas, but also to a world with many instabilities and challenges where we shall need to be strong and clear about what family medicine needs to thrive and grow.

As the first woman President, it is an honour for me to take WONCA’s mission forward for the next two years. I have asked people why a woman matters in leadership – their answer was that this symbolises inclusivity, equity and social justice within our organisation, and so makes people from a similar background believe that they can do also succeed - just as when Obama was elected in the US My ‘presidential priorities’ attempt to reflect this – continuing a focus on equity, with particular reference to Africa as the region with the worst health outcomes and many countries with no family medicine system; and to vulnerable communities, particularly people displaced by conflict or living in poverty.

Photo: Michael Kidd congratulates Amanda Howe on receiving the chain of office 

I want to continue to develop our own thinking and evidence, sharing more widely our messages and policies so that we can use these to persuade others of how to create and sustain family medicine as part of a strong health system. And I want to help our members too – both to look after yourselves, but also to spread the word and impact of WONCA so that you and your colleagues can really benefit from this amazing organisation. We held a workshop at Council where many good ideas were discussed about making membership more meaningful; this emphasised the added value to countries who are still struggling to establish family medicine, but also highlighted how many members in each country may NOT know much about WONCA! So if you are reading the WONCA newsletter, and feel WONCA has something to offer you and your fellow family doctors, please be a WONCA champion and spread the word!

Go well and speak again soon

Amanda Howe
WONCA President
November 2016