From the CEO: new website, Rio and more

Hello again from the WONCA Secretariat. This month I want to report back on a really productive Conference Planning Committee meeting which we held in Rio de Janeiro last month, and also to report on two fantastic events in Costa Rica – the Cumbre, or health summit, on 12th and 13th April and the first-ever Meso (central) American conference from 14th to 16th April. I want to start, though, by highlighting some changes that we have made to the WONCA website.

WONCA website

You may well have noticed that this month we launched an upgrade of our website. The look is subtly different but we hope you agree that it is an improvement - with extra tabs on the homepage to help you find the things you are most looking for. One significant change is that we have gone "mobile friendly", so for all of those who access our site from their mobile device, we hope to give you a better browsing experience. Added to that, the changes should improve people's ability to find our WONCA site if they Google relevant topics.

The membership pages have had a significant revamp and this includes online shopping at the "WONCA shop" and the much requested ability for individual doctors join as a Direct Member or renew the Direct Membership online. We’ve put a lot of work – in the background – into this over the last six months and we hope very much that you like the improvements. It is very difficult to check every page on a site as big as ours so if you find a significant issue on the new site, please e-mail , Dr Karen Flegg, the WONCA Editor editor@wonca.net

Conference Planning Committee

This latest – and last –CPC meeting took place on 8th and 9th April. On the first day we met at Hotel Windsor in Barra di Tijuca, which is the venue for the World Council, whilst on the second day we moved on to RioCentro, the venue for the conference itself.

Since our last meeting in July 2015 the Host Organizing Committee has made major progress. The Scientific Committee had over 3,000 abstracts to process, but has done a fantastic job and they have come up with a really vibrant and exciting schedule of events. By the time you read this I hope that all successful presenters will have been notified, so many congratulations to them, and commiserations to the unsuccessful group, but the standard really was incredibly high and sadly, as ever, not all could be accepted.

Registration numbers are climbing, and the HOC is on target for the biggest WONCA conference ever. The venue is great – definitely one of the easier conference venues to find your way around – and a very lively social programme is taking shape, featuring especially Brazilian and south American music and dance. You have been warned! The conference venue is very close to the Olympic village, and those hotels already available on site will be joined by a few more in the coming weeks. However the organizers have also listed several hotels at the beach, some 11 or 12 km away, and shuttle buses will provide daily transfers to and from the conference venue.

As ever, fuller details of the conference itself, and of hotels and other accommodation, can be found on the conference website – www.wonca2016.com.

Zika Virus

Of course during our CPC meeting we were keen to get an up-to-date report on the Zika virus and its effect in Brazil. The Zika virus is endemic in Brazil and in many other South American countries, and recent news reports have led to some concerns among potential delegates to the forthcoming WONCA World Conference in Rio. This advice is based on feedback from the HOC and on the recommendations as provided by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Rio has experienced some cases of Zika, but the majority of cases have been in the north east of the country. By and large Zika is a mild illness, causing few symptoms, and some patients have been entirely asymptomatic, with their infection only diagnosed by serology. WHO advises that, based on available evidence, there are no general restrictions on travel or trade with countries, areas and/or territories with Zika virus transmission.

However pregnant women are advised not to travel to areas of on-going Zika virus outbreaks. Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes, and not by person-to-person contact, though a small number of cases of sexual transmission have been documented.

WHO offers general advice to travellers to help to prevent mosquito bites. This and other information on Zika can be found on the WHO website.

Cumbre and MesoAmerican Conference

From Brazil I travelled on to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, to take part in the latest Cumbre, or health summit, on 12th and 13th April. In San Jose I joined Michael Kidd and Amanda Howe, and also Inez Padula, WONCA’s President for the Iberoamericana Region. The two-day meeting attracted many high profile participants, including Dr Fernando Llorca Castro, Minister of Health for Costa Rica, Dr Fernando Menezes, Chief of Human Resources for Health at PAHO Headquarters in Washington and Doctors Lilian Reneau-Vernon and Mario Cruz Penate, from the local Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) office (WHO for the Americas).

The Cumbre was followed by the first ever Meso-American family medicine conference organized by WONCA, and it was a huge success, attracting delegates from all the countries of central America, and many from South America and other countries too. It was especially nice to welcome a delegation from Nicaragua. This country was previously a WONCA member, but events in the country had rendered the association non-viable. However a committed bunch of family doctors are trying to resuscitate the society, and we were delighted to meet with them and offer support in their journey. We also met with a delegation from Honduras, led by a dynamic young leader, Dr Alexander Paz. They too are trying to put family medicine on the map, and hope in due course to apply to join WONCA, but in the meantime we were thrilled to welcome Alex to WONCA as a Direct Member, thus adding yet another country where WONCA is represented.

Very many thanks to Dr Thomas Meona Martin and his great team from Costa Rica, and to our colleagues in the WONCA Iberoamericana-CIMF region, who so wonderfully put both events together and ensured a great attendance and a great time for all. Next year’s Iberoamericana conference will be in Peru, and whilst the location for the 2018 Cumbre has not yet been determined I’m sure it will yet again be a fascinating and lovely event.

Forthcoming Events

Next month I’ll report on World Health Assembly, held in Geneva from 23rd to 27th May, and also to highlight at least some of the activities that our Member Organizations undertook to celebrate World Family Doctor Day (FDD) on 19th May. Best wishes until then.

Garth Manning