Sarah Rowland-Jones on her Presidential vision for RSTMH

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Tuesday, 6 November 2018

I’m delighted to say it’s now a month into my presidency, having been an RSTMH Trustee for several years. My experiences on the Board over the years have certainly shown me how much the Society is valued by its members and I am really excited by the potential of our new strategy to deliver better value for our members as their work in tropical medicine and global health changes and evolves.

It is also crucial that we find new ways to utilise the extraordinary breadth and depth of the collective experience of our members to achieve greater impact in the global health arena.

Simon Cathcart, Past President, and Sarah Rowland-Jones, current RSTMH President

Over the next year, I’m keen to make the most of my time in office. During this year Dr Simon Cathcart, RSTMH’s Past President, and Professor Malcolm Molyneux, President-elect, as well as Vice-President, Dr Wendy Harrison will also be involved in our strategic areas of work, including finalising the messaging work we started earlier in the year and revisiting the goals of our five-year strategy.

Prioritising early career and international members

One element of our new strategy that I’m particularly keen to develop over the next year is to provide better support for our early career members and those who are based outside the UK.

This links to my role as Chair of our recently-revived Education and Training Committee, which oversees our work to support early career researchers and professionals from all sectors.

In the last 12 months we’ve launched the new role of Student Ambassador, as well as trialling a Careers Day for medical students, a student essay competition, and policy work to try and make it easier for UK trained clinicians to work on projects outside the UK while complying with GMC requirements for revalidation (I’d particularly like to thank Professor Chris Whitty for his work in this area).

This year we are aiming to work on these initiatives to optimise them for our members, and we would be really glad to hear feedback about improvements our members would like to see.

Having helped to organise a joint conference to showcase African science in Nairobi in 2016 with the African Academy of Science, we would now like to develop a similar event in West Africa for 2019. I think it’s very important that we continue to support our members across the world, not only those in the UK.

Ensuring the success of ECTMIH 2019

I also want to ensure that the European Congress on Tropical Medicine and International Health 2019 (ECTMIH 2019) is a real success. Hosting this event in Liverpool in September 2019, which we hope will be attended by upwards of 1,500 people, is a great opportunity for RSTMH and demonstrates the importance of collaboration across Europe.

The event will encompass our Annual Meeting and provide a broad platform to showcase and discuss the most important current issues in tropical medicine and global health.

My own research background is in the field of HIV immunology and pathogenesis, and I have had the privilege of collaborating with many excellent researchers around the world, particularly in Africa.

I’m especially delighted that one of my collaborators, Professor Rashida Ferrand, will be delivering the Christmas lecture in Oxford in December, where she will describe her ground-breaking studies on HIV infection in adolescents in Zimbabwe.

I’m pleased to see that the often-neglected area of adolescent health will be recognised in ECTMIH 2019 within the age-related health track. HIV more generally will also have a place in the Congress, which is not always the case in global meetings of this kind.

HIV and the epidemiological transition

As we are increasingly recognising, HIV in a tropical context can teach us a great deal about the epidemiological transition to a growing burden of non-communicable diseases in resource-limited settings, as both the adolescent and the adult HIV-infected populations more rapidly develop chronic co-morbidities, even with anti-retroviral therapy.

Developing strategies with the funding available for HIV to manage these complications in HIV infection should help health services with their efforts in other disease areas to manage long-term conditions and respond to co-morbidities and ageing populations.

As I get stuck into my year as President, I would like to thank our now Past President Simon Cathcart for his enormous commitment to RSTMH during three years of immense change.

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