Third International Congress on Dermatological Care for All "Common Diseases for Neglected People" - A Dream Come True
Prof. Ugo Fornari
Without any doubt – and the enthusiastic feedback sent by many participants from abroad (other countries in Africa and overseas) confirms this - the Third International Congress on Dermatological Care for All, which took place in Addis Ababa and Mekelle from 24 to 27 November 2009, was a great success. Once again I was there, as I had been in 2006 and 2007, and I agree with the many colleagues who saw this as an extremely valuable experience from every point of view - organisational, human and scientific. I am grateful to Aldo Morrone for giving me the opportunity, at my advanced stage of life, to visit Ethiopia once more and to make me feel to all intents and purposes like his partner in a huge project of genuine human solidarity.
‘Let’s help each other, towards a common goal’ has become our motto. His dreams and mine concur, as do our objectives. And when I, a non-dermatologist, was asked to contribute to a ‘scientific’ report on the Congress, despite the fact that I did not feel I was the best person for this task, I decided to accept the invitation to make a few observations, but as a ‘voice from outside the choir.’ This is what I had already done in my brief inaugural speeches at the three Congresses in which I had taken part. Here, once again, I intend to touch on the spirit, ideals and objectives of the Congress, rather than the scientific aspects.
I was lucky to be able to follow Aldo Morrone closely from January 2005, throughout the whole process, in the implementation of a far-reaching and far-seeing project of international meetings based in Ethiopia. The intention was to involve specialists from other countries in this dream of co-operation, to bring medical assistance, especially in the field of dermatology, to the many inhabitants of this very poor country who desperately need help.
I remember a particular moment which was like a small ‘Big Bang’ in Morrone’s mind, while we were on a night flight from ‘my’ Tanzania to ‘his’ Ethiopia. It was January 2005, and we had both taken part in a Congress on Dermatology in Moshi, Tanzania, superbly well organised by Henning Grossmann. We were on our way to visit Addis Ababa and Mekelle, in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, where for several years specialised staff from the San Gallicano Institute in Rome had been offering medical assistance, in cooperation with Italian and Ethiopian agencies. It was then that Morrone, speaking also to Terence Ryan and Luitgard Wiest who were travelling with us, began to set out his plan to organise an International Congress in Ethiopia, with a view to giving visibility to the country’s huge health problems, and to make the largest possible number of specialists all over the world aware of Ethiopia’s real situation in the field of dermatology.
It was a far-sighted proposal, and the dream became reality in November 2006, with the first Congress, which was organised in an original and courageous way, starting with the inauguration and first part in Addis Ababa, and the continuation of the work in Mekelle. This set-up was welcomed by everyone despite the logistical difficulties, and the same format was kept for the later Congresses. Several world-renowned dermatologists attended the first Congress, and their number increased rapidly over the years: last November there were eighty. Every continent was represented: Africa, Europe, America, North and South America, and Australia, with at least twenty different nationalities: proof of a genuine interest and extraordinary involvement in the objectives of the Congress on the part of eminent specialists from all over the world.
This was a Congress different from many similar events which are organised all over the world, often with more or less evident implications of economic interest, and which turn out to be advantageous mainly to the participants. This one, on the contrary had the primary aim to promote concrete initiatives to the advantage of the poorest and most destitute. This was a Congress without suspect sponsorship, with no influence from outside factors of economic interest. This was a Congress where people met, spoke, but above all, acted, with everyone taking on concrete commitments for projects to be implemented as quickly as possible, above all to promote and diffuse knowledge and initiatives based on the realities observed personally, and on the spot. The meetings were carried out in an atmosphere of cordiality and reciprocal respect, with the opportunity for meaningful and sincere exchanges of ideas and opinions among people from different parts of the world, who were immediately bound through a feeling of friendship, and who left each other with the intention and hope of meeting again soon, to continue to work towards realising an ideal common objective.
I would like to underline other important aspects of this Congress which particularly struck me, apart from the fundamental one of its ‘essence’ and its ‘spirit’. Its success was also due to the meticulous and careful organisation of every detail in the programming of a very complex event, which was carried out excellently by a group of people working behind the scenes in what were difficult logistical conditions. Another thing which impressed me was the strong personality of Barnabas Gebre Ab, the Minister of the Tigray Health Bureau. I had already met him at previous Congresses, and once again on this occasion he was sincerely grateful to Morrone for his initiatives in the Tigray region, and genuinely eager to contribute actively with us to the success of these initiatives, and not for personal interests of prestige, In a note he sent me from Oxford, Terence Ryan expressed the same opinion, and confirmed his appreciation for the Congress, which he had been obliged to leave after three days, before the end, due to other commitments.
I’d like to conclude by quoting a comment of Ryan’s on an international workshop organised by Morrone in Rome a few years ago, a comment which I feel is still particularly appropriate for last November’s Congress: ‘It is events such as these that make a real difference. Listen to Aldo Morrone!’
Ugo Fornari, 24 January 2010