Professor Michael Kidd, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Flinders University, has become the first Australian in more than 30 years to be elected President of the World Organisation of Family Doctors.
Known as WONCA (a part acronym of its full title), the organisation is the international umbrella for a range of national professional groupings of general practitioners. As World President-elect, Professor Kidd will take up the leadership of an organisation of 123 member colleges and academies representing over 300,000 doctors in 102 countries for a three-year term starting in 2013.
A member of its executive committee for the past six years, Professor Kidd says WONCA is remarkable not only for the extent of its membership but for the breadth of its activities. These extend from the provision of information and education to individual doctors to collaboration on strategic and policy advice on family health and primary care with the World Health Organization and the United Nations.
“WONCA does great work in creating links between countries – and particularly in assisting countries where general practice and family medicine is not well established – to set up training programs for medical students and graduates, to look at standards for the practices where people are working, and to advocate with governments to support strong systems of primary care,” Professor Kidd said.
“The whole rationale behind it is that we know that those countries with strong systems of primary care have better health outcomes for their populations.”
Professor Kidd is no stranger to strategic roles – a former president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, he also chairs the Australian Government’s advisory committee on HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections.
Although high-level administration claims much of his time, Professor Kidd still finds time to work part-time as a GP, seeing patients in a city clinic and acting as a locum when time permits. He said patient contact keeps him in touch with day-to-day aspects of issues that emerge in his teaching, research and administrative roles. It has also fueled his concerns about the climbing infection levels of serious communicable diseases in Australia, including HIV, hepatitis B and C and sexually transmissible infections.
“HIV is an important indicator condition; if HIV rates are going up it means that our prevention interventions aren’t working as effectively as they should,” Professor Kidd said.
“What we’ve seen in this country is that when our governments stop investing in targeted, effective prevention campaigns and stop getting the messages out to the population, particularly to young people and other priority at-risk populations, we start to see rises in infections.”
It is a trend that has affected not only Australia but also other comparable countries over the past ten years, Professor Kidd said.
He said the Federal Government, backed by the States and Territories, has now invested in a new monitored national strategy that will include major safe sex campaigns aimed at young people. It aims to turn infection rates around over the next three years.
Education is a crucial factor: many men for instance, do not even know what chlamydia is, Professor Kidd said.
“Last year 30,000 young Australian men were diagnosed with chlamydia and most experienced it as a painful if temporary condition: but in women, it can lead to chronic pelvic infection and infertility.
“These are important health issues that cross political boundaries, and it’s really good to see our political leaders taking these infectious diseases seriously.
“We are starting to see the same in the response to some non-communicable chronic diseases and mental health and in a very strong commitment to improvements in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.”
Professor Kidd said remote and disadvantaged Indigenous communities are in special need of expert primary and preventive health programs, and he is particularly proud of Flinders University’s involvement and growing role in Indigenous health, both through its research and teaching and the activities of its students.
“This University is terrific with the sorts of things the student body gets involved with, particularly around social justice issues that affect whole community,” he said.
Professor Kidd said the aims and methods of primary care as an approach to medicine are now solidly mainstream within the ranks of doctors and beyond.
“A lot of people want to do good, and want to make a difference in the lives of people in their community, in their nation and indeed in the wider world,” he said.
“Sometimes they just need assistance and guidance in seeing what it is they could be doing.”
Through his leadership of WONCA and in his other numerous advisory roles, Professor Kidd will be offering just that.