WFN Reinforces Its Commitment to Advancing Global Neurology Education

Report of a press conference held at the World Congress of Neurology, Montreal, October 2023

On behalf of the WFN trustees, assisted by the WFN press support organization, Yakkety Yak.*

Key teaching initiatives bridge gaps in neurological care to promote brain health worldwide.

Neurological disorders are currently the second highest cause of death and the leading cause of disability worldwide. The new Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study shows that the number of people living with brain disease is expected to double by 2050.

One of the central challenges of addressing the growing burden of neurological diseases is the lack of available neurology care in under-resourced parts of the world. The World Federation of Neurology (WFN) is committed to finding new and innovative ways to educate and train an increasingly critical global neurology workforce to close this gap.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends one to five neurologists per every 100,000 people, but many low- and middle-income countries fall well below this number. In fact, the contrast in available neurologists between low-income and high-income countries is so stark that some of the lowest-income nations have 70 times fewer neurologists than countries like the U.S. and Canada.

“It’s impossible to develop appropriate care without education. It’s impossible to promote research without education,” said Dr. Alla Guekht, elected trustee of the World Federation of Neurology.

WFN will continue working with its regional neurological associations and member states to increase the availability of neurological care worldwide.

WFN Training Centers

WFN furthers its mission of fostering quality neurology and brain health worldwide by promoting global neurological education and training, with an emphasis on under-resourced parts of the world. WFN celebrates 10 years of WFN Training Centers, which facilitate training and knowledge exchange as well as visiting fellowships in global regions that have severe shortages of neurologists. WFN currently has training centers in Africa (Dakar, Senegal; Cairo, Egypt; Rabat, Morocco; and Cape Town, South Africa) and Mexico.

“The idea is not to go there and teach, but to empower regions to train their own neurologists,” said Dr. Wolfgang Grisold, president of the World Federation of Neurology. “This has been extremely productive, and while it does not fill the gap that is needed for neurologists in these and other regions, it does create important incentives.”

Future education efforts need to extend beyond neurology specialists to include training in neurological disorders and brain health at all levels of the health care system.

“Increasing the number of neurologists alone is not enough,” said Dr. Augustina Charway-Felli, president of the African Academy of Neurology. “We need to increase neurological awareness across health care providers of all levels — primary health care providers, general practitioners, specialists that are not neurologists and allied health care professionals.”

Global Partnerships and Visiting Neurologist Programs

WFN facilitates programs where residents or young neurologists visit hospitals in other countries for four to six weeks to gain exposure to different health systems and bring back their knowledge and experience to their home countries.

These initiatives are enabled by partnerships between the WFN and national neurological societies. They aim to enhance the exposure of young neurologists to their respective national neurological frameworks within a global context. This offers them the opportunity to connect with new peers and promote future collaborations among countries, universities, hospitals, and departments.

“We are very grateful for the many countries that receive either residents or young neurologists for short department visits,” said Dr. Grisold. “This has been very effective because people get exposed to a different health system for four to six weeks and come back with new ideas they can implement in their own departments and health care systems.”

Increasing Virtual Training

The COVID-19 pandemic required many health organizations to adapt to virtual modes of communication to expand access to training and education previously limited to in-person gatherings. WFN plans to continue utilizing virtual platforms to make critical neurology training and education available on a global scale.

“Increased virtual meetings empower us to be more relevant and efficient in all the different parts of the world,” said Dr. Guy Rouleau, president of the XXVI World Congress of Neurology. “Virtual education reduces costs for everyone —  both participants and the ones who generate the teaching — and we are also better able to tailor education and training to local needs.”

Ongoing education efforts must not only be more widely accessible to the global neurology community but also tailored to the specific needs of each country’s health systems and population.

WHO’s Intersectoral Global Action Plan (IGAP)

WHO’s Intersectoral Global Action Plan (IGAP) on epilepsy and other neurological disorders is a comprehensive framework aimed at reducing the global burden of neurological diseases and bolstering health care systems worldwide with the necessary resources and expertise. One of its goals is to increase training in neurological issues for the primary health care workforce and caregivers.

Dr. Tarun Dua, head of the World Health Organization’s Brain Health Unit, emphasized the need for a multifaceted approach to this complex issue beyond simply increasing the number of neurologists.

“The way we are building up our neurological workforce with the current education programs — even if we double the capacity, we are not going to bridge that gap in the nine years needed to meet the goals of the action plan,” said Dr. Dua. “We need to have a paradigm shift in our thinking.”

This paradigm shift must include not just new and expanded ways of training neurologists, but also reframing how we think of brain health as a human rights and global public health issue.

Spreading Education Through the World Congress of Neurology

The 26th World Congress of Neurology (WCN 2023) was held Oct. 15-19 in Montreal, Canada. WCN 2023 was the first in-person conference since the COVID-19 pandemic and brought together over 2,300 face-to-face and 1,300 virtual participants from 132 countries, including neurologists and advocates from the six global regions represented by our 124 WFN Member Societies. WFN also welcomed a new member society from the Republic of Chad.

“The resounding success of this year’s World Congress of Neurology is a testament to the unwavering dedication of the global neurology community,” said Dr. Grisold. “We’ve not only rejuvenated our connections but also extended our reach, embracing a new member society from the Republic of Chad. Together, we’ve paved the way for a brighter future in neurology.”

At WCN 2023, Dr. Steven L. Lewis, WFN secretary general and Congress committee chair, announced the locations for the next two biennial conferences:

  • 27th World Congress of Neurology, 2025, Seoul, South Korea
  • 28th World Congress of Neurology, 2027, Cape Town, South Africa

From 2024 onward, WFN will establish educational interim meetings called “WFN Digital Neurological Updates (WNU),” devoted to updates in neurology. These virtual meetings will be held in years between congresses and are intended to fill the gap between the bi-annual conferences.

“We will continue to find fresh ways to present the newest discoveries and the latest clinical information to attendees from around the globe,” said Dr. Lewis. “Our goal is to create the most accessible platform so that neurologists and other health care providers can bring this information back to their regions, to their hospitals and to their individual patients, to benefit from the latest developments in the field of neurology and to provide the best neurologic care to their patients wherever they may be.”

Looking toward 2024 and beyond, WFN is excited to find new and even more effective ways to support training for the global neurology community, foster regional exchange of knowledge and education, and prioritize brain health as a human right and a global public health issue. •

* This article was composed by our press consulting agency Yakkety Yak, Inc., on behalf of the WFN. It is based on interviews and communications and contains no industry influence or bias.