17th World Rural health conference to go ahead - virtually

Dear 17th WONCA World Rural Health Conference registrants,

When we agreed that the 17th World Rural Health Conference would be in Bangladesh, we knew that we faced many challenges. We had faith that our young and enthusiastic group from Primary and Rural Health Bangladesh would put their heart and soul into it. They did so in abundance. They have had, and we have had, amazing support from all of you worldwide.

We have had many abstracts, registrations and donations to support our rural doctors who are in less favourable circumstances to attend the conference. Our Bangladesh organisers gave tirelessly of their time probono. Speakers and officials donated their time to support Bangladesh rural doctors and their communities. Just when we had momentum and a firm program around the abstracts, a tiny virus has now been a major disrupter.

Rural WONCA executive has met and decided that the conference must go on – but virtually.

After much consideration, the Executive have decided that with COVID-19 spreading rapidly, it is not sensible or prudent to have a physical gathering of rural doctors in Dhaka. Doctors are needed by their rural communities now more than ever. Bringing them together, and returning home, risks them being isolated from clinical duties for weeks or even worse, accelerating the spread of the virus to vulnerable rural areas.

We recognise that a virtual conference is not easy – especially catering for time zones – but we hope that, like at a face to face conference, we can adequately cater for you. For those of you who have presentations we hope you can present them. For those with posters – we still want you to be able to “stand by them”. Our workshops will be a bit more difficult, but we hope to provide some interaction. Our keynotes can still go ahead. Rural café will be on again. We want your ideas as to how we can make this still a wonderful celebration for our Bangladesh colleagues and a lasting influence for good in rural Bangladesh.

For those of you who have booked flights or accommodation, we sincerely apologise – we do hope we have given you reasonable notice to cancel or defer your bookings.

For all those who have registered, we will put your registration to good use – if you can allow our organisers to retain this, we would ask that you do this. We will acknowledge you on the website as a supporter/donor. Similarly, for those who donated to support our deserving rural doctors, we will ensure we use your money wisely if you are still happy for this to be done. If your circumstances require a refund, please contact us to organise this. We hope to have some money left to establish a fund to assist rural family doctors and rural communities in Bangladesh.

We have an innovative and enthusiastic group of young doctors and we look forward to celebrating the capability of rural doctors to overcome obstacles that are put in front of us, no matter how microscopic or challenging.

We will let you know more in the near future.

Best wishes

Bruce Chater (Chair, WONCA Working Party on Rural Practice) and
Zakiur Rahman (Chair Organising committee, 17th World Rural Health Conference)