RSTMH Annual Meeting 2023: The key themes of the day
In this blog, Tamar Ghosh, RSTMH Chief Executive, summarises the key themes that were covered during this year’s Annual Meeting. Taking place on the theme of ‘Tropical Medicine and Global Health: Priorities for the next 5 years’, the two day meeting featured keynotes, panel sessions and abstract presentations on some of the key issues in global health and tropical medicine.
In late September we held our Annual Meeting for 2023, incorporating our Medals and Awards ceremony, our Annual General Meeting and as part of that welcomed our new President Professor Jimmy Whitworth.
The Annual Meeting this year was on the theme of ‘Tropical Medicine and Global Health: Priorities for the next 5 years’ and was a great way of exploring some of the looking ahead at what are likely to be the big issues over the next half decade, and beyond.
This year, the Annual Meeting trialed a new format to provide an opportunity to consider some of the biggest themes of the day. These included: the global funding landscape, humanitarian health, artificial intelligence, one health, drug resistance, and translating research into policy and practice. A twin-track approach to the meeting meant we could also hear from our members and travel scholars about their current research in these areas, and also from the perspective of key diseases such as malaria, as well as key areas such as topic infections and outbreaks.
We chose to look at a number of overarching themes in the meeting, recognizing that some of these also overlap. During the course of the two days, we were able to spend some time looking at each of the key themes, as listed above, through a keynote presentation which set the scene for the current global context and also the key priorities and challenges we should expect to be facing over the next 5 years. These keynotes were followed by a panel discussion of 4-6 people which enabled us to get closer to the heart of some of the priorities from clinical, research, programmatic, and policy perspectives. We were lucky to have a range of perspectives and backgrounds on these panels which made for very interesting debates and stimulated good discussion from the audience.
The meeting was started by a message of support from Jérôme Salomon, Assistant Director General of the World health Organisation, who highlighted some of the overarching challenges facing the world right now, including conflict and emerging disease, as well as some of the exciting prospects and new developments, such as artificial intelligence and its impact in healthcare.
This was followed by an inspiring keynote address from Dr Ibrahima Socé Fall, Director of the Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases at the WHO, who talked about the priorities for NTDs including the need for improved integration, empowerment of communities, building capacity.
The global funding landscape
This panel discussion was led by Professor Sir Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor, Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and had representatives from FCDO, DHSC, EDCTP, the World Bank, CIFF, Wellcome and the Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Programme. Some of the priorities we heard about included the support of underserved communities, tackling climate resilience, pandemic preparedness, mental health, NTDS and infectious diseases. We heard from speakers about the need for capacity building for early career researchers and also ensuring funding reaches the places it is most needed. One of the challenges discussed was how to get high quality research into the hands of policymakers, particularly given the time taken for evidence-based research to reach the community. We also heard about the challenges of funding reaching local communities and organisations, and about how we fund the second valley of death to ensure more innovation becomes a reality for patients and health.
We heard an inspiring keynote address from Dr Bhargavi Rao, Associate Professor of Humanitarian Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), who set the global context and provided an important though shocking introduction to the area of discussion. She set out during her talk 5 current trends, 5 challenges and 5 priorities for humanitarian health. One particular take-home, given the previous keynote and panel discussion, was the need for local and flexible funding. She also mentioned the combined threats of the climate crisis, conflict and health emergencies.
The panel discussion covered much ground given the wealth and diversity of experience in the group. Among many other things, it touched on the need for health scientists to work with social scientists to address the current challenges, and also talked about the heavy burden on women and girls from a number of perspectives.
Translating research into policy and practice
Our keynote for this topic was delivered by Dr Bern-Thomas Nyang'wa, Medical Director, Amsterdam Operational Centre, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), who led us through a project from research to practice, developing a new treatment regime for TB. He talked us through the approach, which was centered on communities and patients. He also explained the achievements so far, as well as some of the challenges along the way. One of the take-away lessons for me from his talk was the consideration of who has a seat on the table when deciding on implementation. In addition, when we formulate policy, how do we manage the questions of who it is for, who is defining the problem, and who is involved in choosing the solution.
The panel discussion covered much ground, and featured a very diverse set of speakers. It touched on the need for policy making to be fluid and responsive in different settings, and the importance of collaboration. One area it touched on, which RSTMH has been looking at for some time, is how early career scientists can work more closely with communicators and policy makers.
The Annual Meeting covered antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and featured a keynote address by Dr Ghada Zoubiane, Head of Partnerships and Stakeholder Engagement, International Centre for Antimicrobial Resistance Solutions (ICARS), who brought us up to date with some of the global priorities and challenges in this broad area of work. She talked us through the progress of countries through their National Action Plans, as well as touching on some of the challenges, including the need for greater capacity and political will. Some of the priorities she left us thinking about included how to achieve country ownership, how to tailor solutions for resource, capacity and cultural considerations, and a need for greater understanding of the enablers for adoption of solutions.
The panel discussion was, like the others, broad and covered areas including the challenges of AMR in more rural settings. It looked at the future of AMR and what action was needed, as well as the advances that have been made.
To set the scene and to give us an insight into the use of artificial intelligence in global health, Dr Charles Mowbray, Discovery Director, DNDi delivered our keynote address. He took us through many of the ways in which AI is currently being used, as well as how it could be used, to improve global health, and also some of the important considerations in doing so. Some of the benefits he touched on included the ability to help make healthcare faster, cheaper and enable better prioritisation.
The panel discussion was very rich and touched on too many areas to cover here, but some of the take-away messages for me were around the challenges of making AI equitable – from algorithms, to design, its use and its evaluation. The discussion also touched on how we manage patient data and, importantly, how we connect different data sets to enable a greater understanding.
Professor Sir Andy Haines, Professor of Environmental Change and Public Health, Centre on Climate Change and Planetary Health, LSHTM, delivered the keynote on how climate change is impacting global health. He touched on the effect that climate change is already having, including its impact on infectious diseases – particularly to vector-borne, food-borne and water-born diseases, as well as zoonotic diseases. He also looked at the commitments being made to tackle climate change and the impacts.
The panel discussion was broad reaching and included discussions around how we consider the environmental footprint of research, and how we ensure those most impacted by the results of the climate crisis are involved in the design and delivery of the work. There was a shared priority felt in the room about the need for health to have a greater presence in climate conferences and political discussions. Two of the take-home messages for me were around the need to move from modelling benefits to action, and the about how we can measure resilience to inform policies.
The meeting also included many other incredible talks – too many to summarise here – but included abstracts from our members, the Presidential Address from new-President Professor Jimmy Whitworth and also the final panel discussion which brought together many of the themes of the meeting in order to look at what role RSTMH may have in addressing some of the priorities.
If you want to hear more about the topics covered, the Annual Meeting recordings are now available to purchase. The recordings are for both tracks and can be purchased as seperate days, or for the whole Annual Meeting. Find out more here.