Reflections on another successful year for the Society in challenging times

21 Sep 2020

Two or three years ago Tamar Ghosh asked me if I would consider standing for President of the RSTMH.  I had first joined the Society when I was working in The Gambia in the 1980s having had the honour of being nominated, as you had to be in those days, by my good friend and mentor Hilton Whittle.  I asked Hilton what to expect before my first visit to Manson House, the Society’s HQ in Portland Place where all meetings were held in those days. He told me I could expect to see a number of people I thought had died some years ago. While this was not strictly true, the average age of the Fellows who came to the Manson House seminars was certainly high, and about 80% of them were male. 

I had first met Tamar in Moshi, Tanzania, at a Research in Progress meeting organised by the Society at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical University College in collaboration with the East African DTM&H course organisers. I think this was only the second meeting of the Society that had ever been held in Africa, and it was clear that things had changed. As well as organising meetings in Africa, the Society was going out of its way to recruit early career researchers and to offer them mentorship and the opportunity to apply for research grants, and the membership was much more diverse with a good gender balance. 

I told Tamar I would be happy to stand for election and that it would be an honour to be President of the Society.  She told me that I would be President-elect for a year while Malcolm Molyneux was in the chair, but this did not happen as Malcolm deferred taking up office for health reasons – though I am delighted to say that he is now in good health and playing an important part in the life of the Society.  Tamar told me that I would be inaugurated as President in two weeks’ time at the Annual General Meeting (AGM), which would be held in Liverpool at the European Congress on Tropical Medicine and International Health (ECTMIH) being organised by the Society. 

ECTMIH was a huge success.  With 1,400 registered participants from 94 countries it was by far the largest meeting run by the Society since I had been a member, and greatly raised the Society’s profile internationally.  The Society’s AGM was held there on the topical theme of One Health, with an excellent multidisciplinary panel discussion chaired by our Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty. Not long afterwards I was once again at the East African Research in Progress Meeting Moshi, which had 92 participants from 8 African countries, where I heard excellent presentations from a number of young African researchers, and in December was at the excellent UK Research in Progress meeting in London.  The Society organises mentoring session for young scientists at these meetings which seem to be much appreciated by early career scientists. 

During my year as President I have been hugely impressed by the work of Tamar and her team. Membership has grown by 20%, and £170,000 has been secured from NIHR and the International Trachoma Initiative to support our small grants programme, enabling us to award 50 grants to early career researchers this year, the new and improved RSTMH website was launched, as was the grow website which aims to showcase opportunities in global health including PhD fellowships, courses, funding, jobs and internships.   The team has adjusted brilliantly to the new order, setting up virtual meetings such as our AGM and the upcoming Annual meeting.  The finances of the Society have been a concern since the sale of Manson House, and our ambition is to break even financially by 2023.  We will soon be launching a new and exciting fundraising initiative, Friends of RSTMH, and I was delighted that we were able to recruit Tim Hazell as our new Honorary Treasurer to help steer us through this critical period.

I am delighted to have handed on the presidency to Gail Davey, whose ground breaking work on podoconiosis I have long admired, and am very much looking forward to the fully virtual Annual Meeting in October which provides the opportunity for many of our fellows to join us from all over the world.