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Family doctors have social justice role

Thursday, 22 November 2012
Author: Flinders News, Flinders University

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At a recent meeting hosted by UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS, Professor Michael Kidd (pictured) spoke to a roomful of lawyers about human rights from a medical perspective.

Some of the lawyers, Professor Kidd said, were perplexed.

"Their response was, 'Why are you talking about human rights? Human rights are a legal issue, not a medical issue'," he said.

"I think they're wrong."

For Professor Kidd - Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Flinders University, former president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and President-elect of WONCA, the World Organisation of Family Doctors - health and human rights are inextricably linked.

It's a message he shared last month with peers as guest speaker at a plenary session of GP12, the RACGP's annual conference; and it's one he intends to spread further.

"If doctors don't stand up for issues of social justice, especially with our privileged place in society, who is going to?" Professor Kidd said.

"Especially family doctors - we have access to pretty well everybody in the community. Each GP is knowledgeable about the health and wellbeing and social issues that are affecting the people they provide care to and the communities they serve," he said.

Australia's system of universal access to public hospitals, our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and our subsidised primary care, Professor Kidd said, are good examples of a nation addressing access to health care as a fundamental human right.

"We have a strong track record in human rights and tackling discrimination and working towards equity. A lot of that permeates our approach to health care," he said.

"It doesn't mean our system is perfect or that there isn't an awful lot we can still do, as we see with the existing social disparity among different groups of people in this country, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people."

Professor Kidd begins his three-year tenure as President of WONCA, the global organisation representing over 250,000 GPs and other family doctors in 122 countries, in June 2013.

He intends, unabashedly, to promote the Australian concept of 'a fair go' to his colleagues abroad.

"It's part of my platform. There is a lot about the way we do things in Australia which can have an impact in other parts of the world," he said.

There are also lessons he expects to learn overseas that will flow in the other direction.

"One of the fascinating things about being involved in global health is that you get to see how things are done in other places and it's an opportunity to bring home good ideas, as well, and not just from the traditional countries we've got our ideas from in the past."

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