Prof van Weel's final days as president

Professor Chris van Weel of the Netherlands, was President of Wonca from 2007 to 2010. At the WONCA 2010 Cancun world conference he handed over the chain of office to Professor Rich Roberts of the USA. He was awarded Honorary Direct Life Membership of Wonca at the Cancun Conference in recognition of his great contribution to Wonca as President and over many years. Chris travelled extensively during his time as Wonca President and is well known to many. Here are excerpts from some of the speeches he made in Cancun.

Opening Speech to WONCA Council on achievements in the past three yearsWe can be very grateful to the founding fathers but we've grown. We've grown since 1972 from 13 to 123 member organizations. We've grown particularly in the last 10 years. We've outgrown the organization that we originally were and that asks for new structures, new ways of positioning ourselves.

WHO Liaison

When we look at the past three years, I think the most significant development we've had was the adoption at the World Health Council last year in Geneva, of the resolution 62.12 on Primary Health Care (including health systems strengthening), in which the 192 member countries of the WHO group stressed the importance of primary care for health systems. To put people at the centre of health care is an important issue for Wonca. It is the first time that in the political discussion of Primary Care that it has been clarified who and what primary care is: - professionals, nurses, midwives and family physicians, that we have to train, that we have to offer exciting job prospects to retain them in their work and it is an important gesture to put vertical programs that may reflect the needs of countries or regions through strong Primary Care.

With this resolution came a very strong alliance between Wonca and WHO.


An important development in the field of classification: - in the past three years we've made good plans to further develop the flagship of Wonca - the ICPC. The Classification Committee is determined to develop ICPC3 and to enable them, we've been making alliances, again with WHO and also with the group who governs SNOMED to put Primary Care classification in the centre of the family of classifications and to make it part of the international standard that has to find its way into electronic medical records.

Mental Health

The greatest event of the past three years (as well as the cooperation with WHO) has been the Working Party for Mental Health producing this report. Taking care of (completely neglected in many areas of world) mental health problems and putting mental health in the mainstream of primary care - a great achievement, great cooperation. Very important for health people.

Young Doctors

In past years with the increasing number of regional conferences, we on Executive have deliberately tried to establish contact with young doctors. I am delighted that at this conference in three days time we will have a substantial number of young doctors, residents, students with an interest in Primary Care. And we not only have their active participation in the academic program but we have also seen a cooperation of regional organizations from North America, Asia - Pacific region and Vasco da Gama from Europe to secure the position of young docs in Wonca. I don't think I can overestimate the importance of this and I'd like to acknowledge Naomi Harris of the Rajakumar movement, Andrea Poppelier of Vasco da Gama, and Miguel Angel Quiljada Fragoso of the Ibero Americana region for their untiring contribution to this.You have made the best of Wonca regional structure in linking regions and not seen them as separate items standing on their own and the fruits of that are directly after the World Council is finished the young doctors have organized a preconference meeting a two day meeting.


The last point I would like to acknowledge here is the development in research. Wonca has been accused of being pretty late in putting research to its full agenda in 2003 with the Kingston conference report. Since then we have been able to strengthen the position of primary care journals - a very important issue in the building of the research capacity.

In the past three years we have been in contact (together with the North American Primary Care Research Group, NAPCRG) with Index Medicus which succeeded last year in convincing Index Medicus to introduce a subject title "Primary Health Care" including Family Medicine and to allocate all journals in that field to category of their own. If you work in a university you will understand the vast importance of this increased visibility. But even more important is the introduction of Primary Care publications, in better visibility in the allocation of impact factors and bibliographic analyses of research output. For the main big database is that of Thomson Reuters ISI Web of Knowledge, and a couple of weeks ago I got the good news that they have decided to followed the advice of Wonca and NAPCRG to introduce a separate Subject Category Primary Health Care in their database to bring together all Primary Care journals. I think that is a substantial improvement in the visibility of our research. A development with which our Executive is very delighted.So in conclusion I think we can be pretty proud of what Wonca has done with given means and given capacity. We are more and more highly valued as a partner at global tables where important academic health policy is made. That's remarkable success but the past three years have been particularly painful for the lack of our financial resources. We could do so much and we are restricted to do so little with the budget we have.

There is the urgent need to address this, and this asks for a fundamental review of how Wonca operates, including its financial resources: the GROW project. It is the appropriate moment to address this in this Council, in order to continue the success we have established. With it come changes in the bylaws, to secure a much better gender equity within our organization – most important to secure the recruitment of the best talents, from all regions, for Wonca. I have all the confidence in the wisdom of Council that the important right decisions will be taken here, in the coming days. Thank you.

Closing words of thanks at handover ceremony to new President Rich Roberts

That brings me at the end and of course a couple of words of thanks are most appropriate.I would like to thank first the Dutch College and Arno Timmermans for allowing me to become the candidate for President Elect in 2004 and for his unwavering support throughout all these years particularly the last three years. And the Royal College for supporting my candidacy. I'd like to thank the Wonca council for electing me and allowing me what have been a marvelous three years. I don't dare to say that I enjoyed every minute of it but it comes pretty close to it.

I'd like to thank the members of the outgoing Executive as a team as much as everyone in person for their support and for their willingness to go with me on the way we have been working in the past three years. And of course three very special people from Singapore. Alfred Loh, his stewardship I have already mentioned. Alfred thank you very very much for your leadership. Yvonne Chung, Gillian Tan. Gillian, Yvonne, what you are doing for Wonca is fantastic and the way you are doing it is even more fantastic. Such an involvement, such a knowledge, such a passion, and in such a pleasant way: it has made my presidency particularly pleasant.

When in 2004 I was elected President Elect, at the same voting round two young men were also elected on Wonca Executive - Michael Kidd and Rich Roberts. At the time, I called that the dream choice of having that team together. The last three years they were the core executive with me. I am glad that on occasions my predictions come true. It was really fantastic to have Rich and Michael along: supporting me, reassuring me and giving me the backing at the moments I really needed it. And particularly thanks Rich for what you have done. If Michael would only give you half the support to you that you gave to me, you have a magnificent President Elect.

Rich, it will very soon be up to you. I have here my last philosophical statements to you. Rich, if we knew where we were going, we wouldn't need leadership. We need you as we don't know exactly where Wonca will go. It's up to you, after you've allowed me to thank the last couple of people.

I am delighted that with me here for the first time at a world Wonca conference is my complete family. My daughter Nienke will turn 35 tomorrow and we are going to celebrate that, my daughter in law Olduz and my son Jorrit are celebrating their honeymoon and we are delighted they are with us. And of course very special words I should give to Evelyn, as so often I knew that everything I had to do for Wonca or I thought I would like to do for Wonca had your backing. It was a wonderful tacit agreement we had and of course I made very much use of it and paid very little tribute to it. So this dismal state of affairs let me amend that for a little bit by thanking you very very much for everything you have allowed me to do. Thank you