Original article by Johan A. Aarli, M.D. published 11 April 2009 in The President's Column, World Neurology Vol 24 No. 2


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Johan A. Aarli, M.D.

The 19th World Congress of Neurology in Bangkok, Thailand, in October this year, will be the last of its kind. The congresses have been quadrennial since the World Federation of Neurology was founded in Brussels, Belgium, in 1957. The first congress was held in Rome in 1961, where member countries were invited to present bids for hosting the 1965 congress. The delegates chose Vienna, Austria, and ever since, the congresses have been held every 4 years.

Initially, quadrennial congresses were sufficient to keep pace with developments in clinical neurology, but the landscape changed with time. There was a rapid development of new therapies and advances in diagnostic and imaging techniques. New subspecialties and related fields of medicine emerged, and there was a greater need for world congresses to be more specialized and focused on areas such as Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, stroke, dementia, motor neuron disorder, multiple sclerosis, and headache.

During this time, there was also a general feeling that the WFN's visibility was diminishing and that holding biennial world congresses would raise its profile in the international community. This idea was discussed over successive WFN administrations. One alternative was that the federation should retain the quadrennial congresses and hold regional conferences in the intermittent years. However, we realized it would be difficult to fully realize this plan. Nevertheless, the regionalization of neurology has become increasingly important.

In 2006, the Vice-President, Prof. Vladimir Hachinski, presented a discussion paper on world congresses to the Trustees. He asked whether holding the congresses every 4 years was too infrequent to have any sustained impact on the community, particularly when neurological conditions and knowledge were increasing. He suggested the congresses move to a 2-year cycle.

There are potential advantages to switching to a shorter cycle — it could increase the impact of the federation at the regional level as well as boost its visibility globally. However, it could lead to a decrease in industry revenue and it might clash with regional congresses. Until now, national societies responsible for organizing the congresses have done so through a congress organizing bureau, which could vary from congress to congress. With biennial congresses, we will need a permanent congress organizer (PCO), and we'll also need to adjust the WFN committee system to include a Congress Supervisory Committee.

The proposal of 2-year cycles was presented to the WFN national delegates at the Council of Delegates in Glasgow in 2006. Delegates presented their views and proposals and had until the next Council of Delegates, in Brussels the following year, to form their opinions. There, a clear majority favoured biennial congresses, starting from 2011.

Soon after that, the WFN contracted a PCO, established the WFN Congress Supervisory Committee (WCSC), and compiled a schedule for future congresses.

We have decided to use Kenes International as our PCO for the first series of world congresses, starting with the preparation for WCN 2011. The WCSC is appointed by the Trustees on the recommendation of the WFN President. We also agreed on the following schedule for future world congresses: 2013 will be in Europe; 2015, in the Americas; and 2017, in the Asian-Oceanian region.

It was also decided in Brussels that the 20th WCN in 2011 should take place in Africa. At the WFN Council of Delegates in New Delhi in 2008, Marrakesh, Morocco, was selected as the venue. Preparations for that congress have already started, and a report will be presented at the Council of Delegates in Bangkok this year. We look forward to organizing future biennial world congresses.  ■