Sydney’s WONCA wrap-up: From pandemic recovery to shaping future health systems

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Representational Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

The WONCA World Conference 2023 concluded its four-day run in Sydney, Australia, stirring critical conversations around global primary healthcare systems in a post-COVID landscape. Organised by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), this year’s conference marked the first time Australia has played host in over two decades. With a line-up of esteemed experts and a broad range of topics, WONCA left an indelible impression on attendees, inspiring the global general practice community.

At the heart of the conference was the theme “Recovery, reconnection, and revival. Primary care contributions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic”. Experts took the stage to share insights, innovations and challenges faced by the healthcare community. The exhaustive list of over 800 presentations and workshops covered a plethora of subjects from health reform and mental health to climate change and rural practice, among others.

Professor Michael Kidd AO, who served as Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic, was one of the major draws. Now affiliated with both the University of Oxford and the University of New South Wales, he discussed the repercussions of the pandemic on primary care. He pointed out that the pandemic has not only highlighted the strength of primary health systems but also laid bare their structural weaknesses. “For many of us, and our patients who are still vulnerable or who are experiencing long-term effects of COVID-19, this pandemic is not over,” he said, urging for transformative reforms in health systems worldwide.

Dr Iona Heath, past President of the UK Royal College of General Practitioners, capped off the conference with her keynote address, “Remembering what we know”. She stressed the significance of robust primary care systems for achieving better health outcomes at a lower cost while reducing health inequality.

RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins aptly summarized the overall sentiment: “WONCA is a celebration of GPs and family doctors, the most visited health professionals in Australia, and many countries overseas. It has been a chance for GPs to connect with our overseas colleagues and shape the future of medicine, here in Australia and overseas.”

It wasn’t just about the problems, though; solutions were also at the forefront. A special session dedicated to trauma and burnout within the medical professions offered actionable strategies for improving doctors’ health and wellbeing, a subject of increasing importance in the light of recent challenges.

So what’s the takeaway from WONCA 2023? For Dr Higgins, it’s renewed energy and optimism. For many others, it may be a clarified vision for what resilient and responsive primary care systems could look like in a world that desperately needs them. One thing is for certain: it was an opportunity for general practitioners to come together, share experiences, and drive the kind of change that can make healthcare systems around the world more robust and equitable.

This landmark conference was not just an academic exercise but a call to action, urging policy-makers and healthcare providers to rethink priorities and investments. As health systems worldwide grapple with numerous challenges, including chronic diseases and ageing populations, the solutions may well lie in strengthening primary care—the backbone of any effective health system, according to experts.

WONCA 2023 succeeded in fostering global dialogues, highlighting gaps, and propelling the healthcare community towards sustainable solutions. It demonstrated that general practice isn’t just a local concern but a global one, deserving attention and investment from governments worldwide. With this year’s conference leaving a lasting impression, the next one will have a tough act to follow. But if WONCA 2023 is any indication, the future of primary care is in capable hands.


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