A group of people at the WONCA conference in UL
Professor Tom O’Dowd, President, Irish College of General Practitioners, Professor Liam Glynn, Professor of General Practice, UL School of Medicine, Dr Bruce Chater, Chair, WONCA Rural Working Party, UL President Professor Kerstin Mey and Dr Jerry Cowley, President, Rural, Island and Dispensing Doctors of Ireland
Monday, June 27, 2022

A large gathering of medical professionals from over 40 countries attended a conference held in University of Limerick recently.

The World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA), a global not-for-profit group with more than half-a-million members in 100 countries, met at UL last week for the 19th World Rural Health Conference.

Participants at the four-day meeting, hosted by UL, the Irish College of General Practitioners and the Rural, Island and Dispensing Doctors of Ireland, included 650 Global thought leaders in rural health, the WHO, GPs, Medical Scientists and NGO leaders from over 40 countries.

“The conference’s theme ‘Improving Health, Empowering Communities’ is precisely what we are trying to do,” explained chair of the conference organising committee and Professor of General Practice at University Limerick Medical School, Professor Liam Glynn.

“We’ve created a manifesto, asserting the right of rural communities to equitable access to health care. It is called The Limerick Declaration on Rural Healthcare and it is a blueprint for policy makers, academics, and citizens.

“It contains instructions on how to deliver timely equitable high quality healthcare in rural areas and how to empower the residents of those communities to make it happen,” Professor Liam Glynn added.

The document is a blueprint designed to facilitate:

  • Investment in rural healthcare infrastructure, co-created with our rural communities protecting and enhancing local environments while addressing the social determinants of health
  • Building a diverse and inclusive workforce that is representative of the communities we wish to serve, underpinned by the principles of social accountability while being committed to gender equality and social justice
  • Involvement of rural stakeholders in all government policy, which should be mandated to undergo “rural-proofing”
  • Dynamic co-production of evidence on rural health between communities, health workers, academic researchers, policymakers and civil society organizations by mainstreaming rural research activities

The attendees were warmly welcomed by UL President Professor Kerstin Mey, who said: “Improving Health, Empowering Communities is such an important theme for this conference as it will ask attendees how we can and how we are doing more for everyone around us.

“As we know, empowerment for health moves beyond the traditional methods of sharing information and consulting. It involves a change in power relations, enabling individuals and communities to exert more control over their lives.

“To that end, it is indeed noteworthy that this conference will ask and hear how the health sector can reach out to communities to create empowerment opportunities.”

Dr Diarmuid Quinlan, Medical Director of the Irish College of General Practitioners, said: “There are 5,000 members in the World Organization of Family Doctors all committed to improving the health of people living in rural communities.

“We are all about empowering people living in rural communities to improve their own health and well-being.

“Here in Ireland, 1.6 million people live in rural communities - nearly one third of the population. It is the largest percentage of rural habitation in any country in Europe, but for years, we have faced a significant shortage of GPs and other healthcare staff in rural areas,” Dr Quinlan added.

Professor Glynn added: “As a rural GP in Ballyvaughan in Co Clare for the last 24 years, I can say unequivocally, the Rural General Practice is one of the most rewarding careers in medicine where you have the possibility of having a real and lasting impact on the health and well-being of a community and this message needs to be heard by the next generation of rural GPs.

“The purpose of the World Rural Health Conference is to foster a high-level dialogue amongst all stakeholders committed to rural health improvement - including the 1.6 million Irish citizens living in rural communities - whose taxes help to fund health care here in Ireland.

“The Limerick Declaration on Rural Health Care encourages folks living in rural communities, to ask themselves not just ‘Why aren’t their enough GP’s?’ But rather: ‘What are we going to do about it?’

“The World Organization of Family Doctors had very humble origins; it began with just a few dozen Doctors. We are now half-a million strong and growing!

“Our aim is to help the people living in rural communities gain the confidence, skills, and resources they need to take control of their own health.

“We have come together here at UL, from around the world, to share our knowledge and our ideas in order to empower communities to improve their health and change their own lives. The Limerick Declaration on Rural Healthcare that we have created is an instruction manual on how to do it,” Professor Glynn added.

For more, see www.woncarhc2022.com.