East African Research in Progress 2017 meeting

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Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Would you recognise the smell of fermented cassava?

This is how Dr William P. Howlett kicked off his lecture and our first-ever East African Research in Progress meeting at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC) in Moshi, Tanzania.

Dr Howlett’s lecture traced the links between the cyanide in young cassava, diets lacking in protein and the presence of konzo in Tanzania in the 1980s – all of which is documented in his Neurology in Africa text book.

An opportunity for early career researchers

It was a fascinating start to what was a very successful collaboration between RSTMH, The East African Diploma in Tropical Medicine & Hygiene (EADTMH), the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), KCMC and the Medical Association of Tanzania.

The idea behind Research in Progress is to give students and early career researchers and professionals and others with research under way an opportunity to present unpublished research in progress through short oral presentations and posters.

As part of our strategy to have a more global reach, the meeting took place in Tanzania and attracted research from across the region including Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Mozambique – as well as from further afield such as The Gambia and South Africa.

Dr Alex Coutinho from Partners in Health, Rwanda
Dr Alex Coutinho from Partners in Health, Rwanda

We were inundated with high quality abstracts. From 154, 47 were assessed for posters and presentations. In a similar trend, attendance was also higher than expected, with 139 attendees from countries as diverse as Belgium and Ghana; Australia and Japan, as well as colleagues from the UK and across all regions of Africa.

The themes were varied and sparked a lot of discussion. Just some of the issues touched on were: FGM, leprosy mapping, health systems, maternal health, yellow fever surveillance, malaria vaccinations and TB meningitis diagnostics. All the abstracts are available to download.

We also had some imminent guest speakers and chairs, including Professor Andrew Swai form Tanzania NCD Alliance who spoke on chronic care of NCDs in Tanzania and Dr Alex Coutinho from Partners in Health, Rwanda who dealt with the intersection of NCDs, mental health and oncology.

Beginning of a mentoring programme

Professor David Mabey from LSHTM gave the participants some advice on building a career in clinical research and international health, which led to break out sessions matching up attendees with potential mentors. As we implement our new strategy, mentorship will be a key element of our work and membership, so it was great to see the start of this programme. We’ll be following up on this shortly.

We were also thrilled to talk in more depth about other elements of the RSTMH strategy, including small grants, events, membership and governance. It was great to have discussions with so many of the attendees and we left with a huge number of ideas for the future.

Dr Michael Marks during a mentoring break out session.
Dr Michael Marks during a mentoring break out session

We ended with some worthy award winners. For best poster, the two winners were Dorah Mrema from KCMC and a group from Kenya on the impact of community-led sanitation: Evans Oliver, Aggrey Mokaya and Timothy Nyangore. Best presentations went to Saba Lambert from LSHTM on leprosy mapping in Ethiopia and Anna Galle from University of Ghent on male involvement in maternal health in Southern Mozambique.

Anna said: “Winning the award was a beautiful reward for some very intense months of fieldwork. It was great to meet so many people during the meeting who share the same dedication and passion to improve health around the world."

RSTMH Dr Simon Cathcart with best presentation winner, Anna Galle from University of Ghent
RSTMH Dr Simon Cathcart with best presentation winner, Anna Galle from University of Ghent

Saba said: "It was inspiring for me to meet other African scientists and doctors working within all the limitations of research in a low-income setting. To then get a prize for my presentation was the emotional booster I needed to keep going with our leprosy work in Ethiopia."

Thanks to everyone who made the meeting a success and congratulations to all the winners. We’ve already received some great feedback, but welcome more comment; get in touch through Twitter or email.

We hope that what started off as an experiment will become a firm fixture in our events calendar.

Find out more about becoming a RSTMH member