Annual Meeting 2020: Emerging diseases and outbreaks - an overview

19 Oct 2020
Super Panel on Preparedness and Response

On 13 and 14 October, we hosted our first fully virtual RSTMH Annual Meeting, covering the theme of emerging diseases and outbreaks.

Emerging diseases are one of our priority areas of focus outlined in our strategy. As such, we decided on this theme for our 2020 Annual Meeting some time ago, not knowing just how relevant it would be.

A virtual meeting meant we could invite delegates from around the world and we were pleased to have 200 attendees and 63 speakers from multiple roles; academics, clinicians, nurses, veterinarians, NGOs, policymakers, early-career researchers, students and RSTMH members, gathered online from 30 different countries around the world.

Insights on COVID-19

Insight on COVID-19 Panel

Chaired by Daniel Bausch, Scientific Advisor for the meeting, the first Panel session of the meeting discussed valuable insights gained during the Coronavirus pandemic. The Panel included speakers from the China CDC; National Institute of Health, USA, LSHTM, UK and the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Peru. The leaders from different regions touched upon their country’s differing approaches, management and outcomes, including economic, cultural, political or social. Their presentations, followed by a popular Q&A, excellently outlined comparisons and why their responses have been so diverse.

Reporting During a Pandemic

Reporting During a Pandemic - Panel

This authentic and candid discussion chaired by Patricia Amira, with Peter Hotez, Victoria Gill, Heidi Larson, and Santosh Vijaykumar explored the concept of an ‘infodemic’ and misinformation. Social media, speedy publications and the rapid sharing of information have been prominent elements of the pandemic, with all regions and countries experiencing some form of misinformation or “fake news”. The panellists talked through what it was like to report during a pandemic, as well as how scientists can engage effectively with traditional media outlets.

There was great engagement from attendees, with many big questions being posed, and the panel went on to explore the complex nature of trust, politics, morality in reporting and the move away from science.

“What is perceived as misinformation? We need to look at ‘blocked’ information as well as mistrusted science. Vaccine hesitancy is about distrust, doubt, anger & sense of repression”

Professor Heidi Larson

Experiences and lessons in the field

Sean Caroll, Panellist, ICU matron at the Royal Free Hospital, London

A key feature of our 2020 Annual Meeting was the emphasis on knowledge sharing. RSTMH hosted sessions with frontline health workers and those dealing closely with emerging diseases to demonstrate the lessons learnt and to encourage sharing of information across regions and communities.

One session in particular, gathered experts who have worked on outbreaks, including Lassa Fever outbreak in Nigeria, Diphtheria in Bangladesh as well as outbreaks of MERS and SARS, to share their learnings and reflect on these experiences in the time of COVID-19.

Experiences from the frontline of COVIS-19 - Panel

Another looked at the experiences of nurses and clinicians during the pandemic. The Panel discussed why Africa has had a different COVID-19 response than Europe and North America. It also highlighted how the multidisciplinary nature of science can answer the big questions, and the need for greater communication and understanding of mental health, moral injury and ethical burden for frontline outbreak staff.

Super Panel on Preparedness and Response

Super Panel on Preparedness and Response

The Annual Meeting was rounded off with a super panel that brought together all elements of the previous sessions on emerging diseases and outbreaks. The multidisciplinary Panel chaired by Professor Gail Davey included Daniel Bausch, Sylvie Briand, Chikwe Ihekweazu, Helen Lambert, Bhargavi Rao and Gail Davey, unpacked what is needed for improved outbreak preparedness and response, as well as what RSTMH’s role can be in the future.

“Outbreak preparedness is a continuous mindset and shouldn't be reserved to 'peacetime'. We shouldn't wait until the end of a crisis to look back on what we could've done better. Preparedness and Response are not separate - they should be embedded in each other”

Dr Sylvie Briand


Networking sessions

RSTMH team testing our new networking platform before the Annual Meeting

The 2020 Annual Meeting delivered a series of networking sessions throughout the conference, including Q&As with poster presenters, member-exclusive sessions with speakers, pre-conference virtual coffee chats, and membership networking opportunities. It is vital that the global health community continue having these types of formal and informal conversations; to share experiences, research and develop professionally.

Outcomes and Conclusions

Tamar Ghosh, RSTMH CEO delivering her closing remarks

The 2020 Annual Meeting brought together an array of opinions, research, people and topics to better discuss, debate and inform on outbreaks and emerging diseases. There are numerous learnings and take-homes from this knowledge sharing event and RSTMH thanks all those who attended for their invaluable contribution and attention over the two days. The Society will be reflecting on the role it plays in this complex area and will be announcing its future work in the coming months. RSTMH is committed to future meetings having a virtual element to ensure that as many of our members, Fellows and other contacts as possible can join us for these important discussions and networks.