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March 1, 2013 Volume 77, Number 3
Subspecialty News: One Year Since World Congress in Buenos Aires David J. Wilkinson, F.R.C.A., Hon. F.C.A.R.C.S.I., President World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiologists


The year 2012 was an extraordinary one if you were an anesthesiologist or an athlete. Every four years the World Congress of Anaesthesiologists (WCA), which is run by the World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiologists (WFSA), takes place in the same year as the Olympic Games, which are run by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). It is interesting to compare the two events. Both events are organized by a local country after a bidding contest, but both remain under the overall control of the parent organization (a factor that can be overlooked by the organizing committee on some occasions!). It would appear that the bidding process to win the opportunity to organize the event is very different between the two cases. For the WFSA, we have a Venue Committee staffed by senior anesthetists, all of whom have run major meetings; none of them are from countries who are applying, and they are enhanced by members of the trade. Applications are submitted according to a rigid application form, and presentations are made to the committee in a fixed format.

The IOC remains somewhat opaque in its decision-making processes, and there is huge lobbying both before and during the application process. None of this is permitted for the WFSA Venue Committee, whose members remain unknown to the applying countries; only the chair communicates with the applicants.

Also interesting to consider is that during 2012 there were myriad national and regional anesthesia and athletic meetings as well as specialist sub-meetings. These are all attended by enthusiastic supporters as well as those who are presenting or competing. So it is interesting to consider what makes an Olympics or a WCA special; special enough to make so many people attend in addition to perhaps going to a national or regional meeting. As one looks at the data about these meetings, there are significant differences in scale! The Olympics in London drew around 10,500 competitors, and the WCA had 590 faculty. The Olympics sold about 9 million tickets in many different venues around the United Kingdom, and the WCA saw about 9,000 attending just the single venue. Two hundred and four countries competed at the Olympics, and there were about 110 countries at the WCA. Both had spectacular opening and closing ceremonies, the difference being that all could attend those in Argentina but only a privileged few were able to be in the Olympic arena in London.

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend both events. I arrived at the WCA in Argentina as the WFSA Secretary and left as the president. I arrived at the Olympic Park as a spectator and also left as one. However, both changed me. Any anesthesiologist can attend a WCA – you just apply and send the money, and that is that. For the Olympics, there was a ballot in the U.K. that you could enter and through which request as many tickets for as many events as you wished, and they somehow then allocated them. I was given two tickets to the men’s field hockey final (Germany versus The Netherlands, as Australia and England were knocked out in the semifinals… bother). I knew nothing much about field hockey, but to go to the Olympic Park and spend time with millions of others from all over the world was really special.

For Buenos Aires and the WCA there were many things to attend and take part in. Once you had registered, the whole meeting was available to you. I was obviously heavily involved in the preparation and running of the two General Assemblies, at which delegates from every member country decided many of the future actions of WFSA over the next four years. Resolutions were passed, constitutional amendments were made and elections for all officers and council members were held for the first time ever. It was a great success. The lectures, poster sessions, workshops, etc., were all very well supported and proved very popular. Naturally, when one reviews the feedback from delegates there were things that could have been done better, and all of these lessons are being handed on to the Hong Kong organizers of the WCA in 2016.

So people attend the meeting to lecture or present posters, to support departmental colleagues who are doing that, or to just listen to what is being talked about. Many attend simply to meet with others from around the globe, and there were myriad small meetings taking place at all times of the day and night both at the venue and at hotels and restaurants around the city. The trade exhibition is a fundamental part of such a large meeting, and again this one was vast. Lots of new companies and new products were available and lots of opportunities to try and to buy.

Then, of course, the meeting was in Argentina… touristic activity was anticipated and occurred. The wine fields of Mendoza, the beauty of Barriloche, the vast Pampas, the amazing Iguaçu waterfalls, Ushuaia and the very close Antarctica, the Spanish architecture of Salta and the splendor of Buenos Aires itself. Not to mention the availability of cuisine and wine of the highest possible quality.

For me, however, and I believe many others, the greatest enjoyment of a WCA is the opportunity to meet with colleagues from all over the world. To have coffee with someone from Albania, lunch with a person from Mongolia, and then supper with people from the Solomon Islands and Vietnam is hard to equal. One learns about life, culture, medical practice and social events from all over the globe, and everyone seems willing to share and contribute. Magical stuff. So for both an Olympic games and a WCA, the magic lies in being part of it; either as a competitor, a presenter or an attendee. They have no equal and plans need to be made for Rio and Hong Kong now!

Obviously the ASA annual meeting is becoming much more than a simple national meeting, but these large congresses still lack some of the excitement of a WCA. What interests me is why ASA can attract 15,000 delegates and yet less than 1,000 will attend a WCA? Can we be very clear here? ASA is really important to the WFSA, and we value your people, your commitment and your increasing willingness to look outside of your local boundaries to see what can be done to improve global anesthesia. But I believe that more anesthesiologists from the U.S. should be travelling abroad. I think it is time for you to start planning to make a commitment to attend Hong Kong in 2016! The rest of the world needs your energy, enthusiasm and skills. Come to contribute, so that our community around the world becomes even stronger.



David J. Wilkinson, F.R.C.A., Hon. F.C.A.R.C.S.I. is Emeritus Consultant Anaesthetist, Boyle Department of Anesthesia, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London.


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