Sunday, October 21, 2007

International Health Co-operative Forum.

The International Health Co-operative Forum was held today in Shinjuku, Japan. It's the 3rd forum after Tokyo 1992 and Manchester 1995, and the theme of this occasion was to decide on the global objectives of the co-operatives' approach to health care, especially after the birth of regional health co-op organizations such as the International Health Co-operative Organisation (IHCO) and the Asia-Pacific Health Co-operative Health Organization (APHCO).

We first had a general assembly featuring some very interesting speeches, one of which I will discuss later, and then we divided into five sectional meetings: world's health co-ops, primary health care, poverty and international cooperation, coping with aging societies, and international exchange of people. I decided to participate in, you've guessed it, the primary health care meeting.

There I met Dr. Yasuki Fujinuma, one of four guest speakers for this sectional meeting. Actually, I've met him before, at a primary health care workshop which was held at the end of September. He's currently the director of Center for Family Medicine Development (CFMD), and also works at the Ukima Clinic, a community-based primary health care clinic located near Akabane in northern Tokyo, and is actively involved in both improving medical education and developing primary health care in Japan. Ukima Clinic is one of the clinics I have an eye on, as it is doing very interesting health care activities at a community-based level. I hope to visit the place sometime next month. Anyway, the part of his speech that caught my attention was when he talked about the near-term plans of primary health care in health co-ops. He talked about three.

One, he stated the need for clinical training in primary health care clinics. He showed us some numbers, and it was something we could nod at. If there were 1000 patients, 88 of them would be going to local clinics while only 0.3 would be paying visits to university hospitals, but the reality is, most of the young doctors train in university hospitals and others alike, the ones that provide specialized, so-called tertiary health care. Clearly, there is a definite need to do at least some training at the community-based, primary health care level.

Secondly, he mentioned that the health co-op should take part in more international activities, taking advantage of the fact that there are co-ops around the globe. In primary health care, you look at the patient as a whole, not just the disease, so it's all the more important to know and understand the socio-economic and cultural backgrounds of the patient. International staff exchanges and training sessions would surely provide an opportunity to see patients with various backgrounds and also have a look at what cross-cultural health care is like. The infrastructure already exists and works around the globe, so networking those is the key here, and I believe the recently-formed IHCO and APHCO can play a pivotal role in this.

And thirdly, he urged that more research be done on primary health care, and also stated that the quality of co-op's primary health care activities must be improved. After all, medicine is still a world where the more specialized skills you have, the higher your authority. In other words, areas like primary health care where you need more of a broad knowledge than specialized knowledge in a certain limited area are not so highly regarded, at least in Japan, so the people need to show with undeniable evidence that primary health care is something that plays an essential role in health care. The co-op's primary health care activities need to be improved too, since obviously you need trust from the people and the community, and quality is what builds it.

When I heard Dr. Fujinuma's talk, I just purely felt moved, and encouraged, as those were exactly what I had in mind. Primary health care, community-based health care, cross-cultural and international health care, education, networking of people and organizations... all of these words I've been thinking about suddenly got connected in one straight line. It's really exciting and encouraging when you meet these energetic people who share similar ideas with you, and especially if that person is already starting to get some things done.

Can't wait to visit Ukima Clinic... :-)