Featured Doctor


WONCA CEO designate

Dr Harris Lygidakis is the WONCA CEO designate, and is taking office in January 2021.

What is your background in WONCA over the years?

I’m originally from Kavala, on the north coast of Greece. My first memories of WONCA are really tied up in that because I contributed to the organisation of a meeting of the European General Practice Research Network there in 2006, together with a small team of young volunteer colleagues.

Later on, when I was doing my residency in Bologna, Italy, I joined the junior group of the Movimento Giotto, and later the Vasco da Gama Movement. These were networks for trainee and junior family doctors, and they really taught me a lot about our potential, and how family medicine adapts to meet the needs of local communities in different countries. I saw how our work puts communities at its centre and how our combined knowledge helps to support one another through the challenges we face.

It was a really eye-opening experience. We travelled a lot and had the opportunity to observe how different family doctors work in different healthcare systems. I felt reborn after every trip, full of enthusiasm to continue improving within my own local context. This sense of being part of a global family really inspired me to keep learning and researching new practices so that I could help to support those around me.

I was elected Chair of the Vasco da Gama Movement, in 2012. I helped to organise the first conference of junior family doctors and trainees and we all worked for stronger ties with WONCA Europe. I became the acting Honorary Secretary in WONCA Europe after the sudden and tragic death of Professor Janko Kersnik. I was then elected to the post in the subsequent term. I was fortunate to work with a wonderful team, including Professor Job Metsemakers, Dr Anna Stavdal and Dr Roar Maagaard, and have learned so much from each of them.

We worked together to develop a strategic plan for the organisation, as well as a new communication strategy to engage our members and the wider medical community, and we continued to maintain and improve relationships with key stakeholders and not-for-profit organisations. As an international organisation with members across the globe, WONCA has such amazing potential to build new bridges and to support countries and communities through primary healthcare.

Other interesting things you have done?

In 2013, I participated in the launch of the International Development of Family Medicine in Palestine (IDFMP) initiative led, among others, by Dr Samar Musmar and Professors Gene Feder and Paul Wallace. The programme was really about strengthening the Palestinian primary health care system, with a focus on family medicine. We did this through providing training and by inviting a community of leaders to share skills and information.

Visiting the West Bank was an experience I will always remember. We witnessed huge challenges and profound inequalities, yet, at the same time, the colleagues we met were asking the same questions that doctors everywhere in the world are asking: How can we best serve our patients? How can we improve and develop our abilities while taking care of our own families? How can we strengthen the image of the medical profession?

I caught the research bug early on in life. My mother is also a family doctor and she instilled the value of self-learning and a curiosity in statistics, while pursuing her doctorate. In the course of my own doctorate, my research took me to Rwanda. It was a twin PhD, which meant that I was working alongside my Rwandan counterpart, Dr Jean Paul Uwizihiwe. The study focused on diabetes management within local communities. We developed a mobile application to allow participants to follow their health status and receive guidance from nurses and community health workers. The project was the result of a collaborative endeavour between the universities of Rwanda, Luxembourg and Aarhus. It was also supported by Rwanda Biomedical Centre and the Karen Elise Jensens Foundation.

It was an intensive research project, and I spent about a year and a half in-country. My fondest memories stem from working with community health workers in rural areas. They often lived in very remote places, and we would be riding between valleys of tea plantations and towering mountains, covered in mud and often in the pitch dark, to reach them. They were a devoted group, full of enthusiasm and utterly dedicated to the patients within their communities.

We embarked on that project believing that innovation should never be fostered simply for the sake of innovation, especially as a rushed response to a very real need for solutions. We believed, and still do, that technology should address the needs of patients within their communities. That’s why we didn’t just develop an ‘app’, but we made sure to pilot it extensively, we translated it into the Kinyarwanda language, spent time teaching communities how to use it, and invested heavily in training a network of community health workers who could continue to provide follow-up support for participants. For technology to work properly, you have to look beyond the software and really understand the people who will be using it.

What do you hope to achieve in your role as WONCA CEO?

First and foremost, WONCA is a member-led organisation. We rely heavily on the goodwill and dedication of our volunteers all over the world. We are all driven by the same passion for improving the quality of life for our patients and our communities. Although we come from all walks of life, we are united in that common goal.

It is a real privilege for me to be taking over from Dr Garth Manning, who has really gone far and beyond in helping to turn our organisation into a sustainable one. For my part, I am particularly focused on developing our communications strategy, reaching out to our membership and our supporters, and strengthening our brand identity. Without sounding too corporate, it’s important that people know who we are, what we do, and how to get involved.

The most immediate item on the list is relocating our secretariat from Bangkok to Brussels, whilst ensuring that our core services remain uninterrupted. This would not be at all possible without the hard work and support of all of our Bangkok staff. They have contributed so much to supporting our organisation, and it really feels as though WONCA is one, big family.

Your interests at work and privately?

Being born between the end of generation X and the dawn of the Millennials, I have always had one foot in the analogue world and one foot in the technological world. I love tech and was fortunate to be able to build an ‘app’ during my stay in Rwanda. In my spare time, the most joyful —and geekiest— moments have involved assembling my own systems from spare parts. I can spend hours carefully researching and selecting the right parts. I enjoy rediscovering the more romantic era of computer entertainment, especially through good old-fashioned adventure games.

Outside of that, I love cooking. Food has always been a big part of my family growing up. Meals were prepared mainly by my grandmother with almost religious attention and we would eat around the table together each day. Although I’m not a vegetarian, I really enjoy finding traditional recipes and trying to put a modern, and more environmentally sustainable, flair on them. I make a pretty mean vegan lasagne.