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Reflections on ASTMH Conference 2015

`Sandra Chishimba January 21, 2016
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First and foremost, I wish to acknowledge the travel funds from Akros for providing me a great opportunity allowing me to attend the 2015 annual meeting American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH). ASTMH is an interdisciplinary organization for the field of tropical medicine, and the annual meeting is for all scientists whose work is in tropical medicine around the world. The research topics ranged from basic science to clinical research. The conference program was divided into two blocks: oral presentations and poster presentations. Presentations of interest to the general audience were arranged for the morning and afternoon. The poster sessions were scheduled for lunch time.

The meeting began on Sunday evening with the keynote lecture given by an eminent scientist, Rajiv Shah MD who formerly opened the meetings. During this session we also had a moment of silence in honour of the former late president Dr Allan McGill who died suddenly.

The oral presentations were about 15 minutes each. The presenters were clinicians, researchers, PhD students, postdoctoral fellows and some MSc students. The presentations were of high quality cutting edge science research and a broad range of topics were covered. The topics were subdivided into Global health, Clinical, Virology, Molecular, Cellular, and Immunoparasitology research. Much emphasis was made on combating new infections during the global health discussions. This was with reference to the most recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. It was clear that the research field, and health systems around the world, need to be strengthened and prepared in the event of a major disease outbreak. Malaria research was a topic not to be missed. New cutting edge techniques on how to investigate ultra-low infections as malaria elimination is being implemented in several countries were presented. Such ideas work to our advantage as we can then interact personally with the researchers by asking questions in person at the meeting and after the meeting in the event that we decide to follow up on the idea for our research.

The author discussing her work with other conference attendees.

The author discussing her work with other conference attendees.

Clinical sessions included topics such as following up on neglected tropical diseases, the fight against HIV and the development of vaccines for diseases such as malaria. The virology session mostly focused on interface between human health and animal diseases. Various viral infections were discussed including Ebola, Dengue, Chikungunya and West Nile outbreaks. Some groups centred their discussion on the preparedness and the control of viral infection. As attendees we got the opportunity to experience the replica Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) and to speak with doctors who were on the front lines in West Africa. We also got to see first-hand what it was like to suit up in a protective suit.

The author suits up at the replica ebola treatment unit.

The author suits up at the replica ebola treatment unit.

The poster presentations were set up before lunch time to accord people a chance to visit them as they had their meals. These sessions had the same themes as the oral presentations.

During the ASTMH conference I realized how important it is to interact with scientists from various fields as knowledge is transferable. Also new techniques are being developed every day and we can introduce some of these techniques in our work here at Akros. There is a need for scientists to collaborate and to share ideas in order for us to make a difference in the lives of many people who are affected by the various diseases that ravage our communities.

Akros Director of Research, Daniel Bridges, giving a presentation at the conference.

Akros Director of Research, Daniel Bridges, giving a presentation at the conference.

Overall, the meeting was very informative and I feel that attending the ASTMH meeting has really helped me a lot. It has put things more into perspective concerning my field of research and it also gave me a platform to speak to various scientists who were very helpful with giving ideas concerning failing experiments. I thank my supervisor Dr. Daniel Bridges for giving me this great opportunity to attend the conference. I strongly recommend that attending meetings of this nature is encouraged most especially to enable us to get exposed to cutting edge science, connect with other scientists who may be our potential partners in research and experience competitive research.

About Sandra Chishimba

Sandra Chishimba is a Laboratory Technologist at Akros. A postgraduate in Infection and Immunity from the Erasmus Medical Center (MC) Rotterdam, the Netherlands, she has interests in researching both communicable and non-communicable diseases.

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