Not just a congress, a collaboration platform

5 minute read

The challenge for APLAR is how to raise its profile and highlight its relevance to all Australian rheumatologists

Australian Rheumatology was a conceiving partner of, and was present at the birth of, SEAPAL, the South East Asia and Pacific Area League Against Rheumatism, back in 1963. 

They gave the new organisation its first toys of a gavel and presidential medallion. As the organisation grew over the next five and a half decades, the Australian rheumatology community provided significant input into the leadership of what we now know as APLAR, the Asia Pacific League of Associations for Rheumatology.

But we have also drifted apart. 

Admittedly a few of our number have contributed much to APLAR and vice-versa, but these represent only a minority of Australian rheumatologists. 

The challenge now for APLAR is how to raise its profile and highlight its relevance to all Australian rheumatologists. And it’s a challenge that’s likely to be replicated across many of the national associations that comprise APLAR as they consolidate their representation. 

The future of APLAR and determining its role in the world of rheumatology depends on regional collaboration, with our European counterpart, EULAR, clearly showing what a cohesive regional league can achieve. 

Within our organisation, health resources and infrastructure varies widely across the different nations. But the differences are lessening. Global Burden of Disease studies show escalating improvements in infectious disease, nutrition, and maternal health; allowing a change in health priorities in favour of rheumatic and musculoskeletal disorders.

The population base represented by APLAR includes over half the world’s population, representing an incredible opportunity to collect information and analysis for clinical research and training.

Currently, the number of doctors available to service this population is insufficient, but that is changing. And while every clinician will be expected to know about rheumatic diseases, the demand for specialist rheumatologists is increasing, particularly in response to the expanding range and affordability of unique, highly effective therapy options.  

Can we do more to assist in training?  Collaboration across borders takes effort, and each year it seems more and more difficult to obtain visas, hospital accreditation, and “registration” to allow rheumatologists from overseas to work in Australia on anything other than data or in a laboratory. Individuals battle against the bureaucracy with occasional success, but surely our professional organisation should have a role here, facilitating opportunities across a range of disciplines. 

You may ask: “What can APLAR do for me?” 

The APLAR regions contains several centres of academic and clinical excellence are “open for business”, but do we know them? 

APLAR countries, with their large populations, expert resources and dedication to quality medicine represent a major opportunity to lead the world in investigating and managing a number of disorders that are our bread and butter such as SLE, gout, and Takayasu’s. 

The annual APLAR Congress is a good starting place for meeting potential collaborators and mentors. As Australian specialists, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to international meetings as we have the financial means and leave entitlements to travel and attend whatever we choose, but for many clinicians from other countries within the region, the APLAR Congress is the only large international meeting they can practically attend. So if you want to meet them and hear of their work you have to be there. 

This year’s APLAR/ARA Congress will showcase the clinical and research opportunities within Asia-Pacific. Having it on home soil will hopefully reinvigorate Australian attendance, as in recent years the Aussie representation has been miniscule. Content is cutting edge and being smaller than the “other internationals” attendees are more likely to get the sessions of their choice.  

APLAR obviously needs to market itself better! 

We need our trainees to expound the latest APLAR treatment recommendation, or be sure to reference the APLAR lupus nephritis trial as part of their conversations and presentations. 

The latest APLAR treatment recommendations for RA and axial spondyloarthritis will be published next month. However we need more targeted recommendations, specific for the APLAR region. We also hope to increase APLAR’s contribution to global initiatives and through our participation with EULAR and ACR. 

The APLAR recommendations will be published in the International Journal of Rheumatic Disease (IJRD), a monthly, on-line, journal in which I, as Editor-in-Chief, do acknowledge I have a vested interest in, but I do commend it as a reputable and relevant publication.

Australian rheumatologists have free access to IJRD via an ARA log on, and attendees at the APLAR Congress will get a year’s access via a personal log on. For those rheumatologists who are interested, they can receive content updates via and contact the ARA for the logon. 

APLAR, despite its relatively low profile, still has a lot to offer Australian rheumatologists. Increasing the synergy between our specialists and this regional organisation represents a major opportunity for both parties. I would encourage all my colleagues to explore APLAR as a collaboration platform and not just a congress. 

Dr Kevin Pile is a western Sydney rheumatologist who has been president, treasurer and secretary-general of APLAR

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