A look back at 2021

17 Dec 2021
A photo showing a doctor hugging his daughter through a mosquito net

Tamar Ghosh, RSTMH CEO

This has been another exciting year for the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, despite the challenging circumstances. Here we summarise some of the highlights and successes of 2021. 

Our Small Grants Programme

This year was another record breaker for our Small Grants Programme, with almost 1,200 submissions and 202 grants awarded to individuals across 42 countries. This means that over the last four years we have been almost doubling the number of awards every year. 

We have been able to do this because of the incredible help of our partners. The Department of Health and Social Care via the National Institute for Health Research funded 161 grants, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) funded 13 grants, Wellcome Trust 10 grants, the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) 6 grants, The Journal of Comparative Pathology Education Trust (JCPET) 2 grants and The International Alliance for the Control of Scabies (IACS) funded one grant. We at the RSTMH also funded 9 grants this year.

As with every year they were a number of grant applications we received which were of a high quality and approved by our assessors, but we were unfortunately unable to award them due to lack of funds. These grants are life changing for those starting out in their careers, across all areas of tropical medicine and global health. If you think you or your organisation might be able to support our grant programme next year, tamar [dot] ghosh [at] RSTMH [dot] org (please do get in touch).

Our Members

We want to thank all our members who have renewed their subscriptions with us this year, particularly given the economic uncertainty that the COVID-19 had brought to many of us. We wouldn’t be RSTMH without the support of our wonderful members. 

This last year has seen our membership again increase, up by 17% - bringing our total membership up to over 1,750 members. RSTMH members get access to our new Members’ Area, which launched earlier this year, where they get access to exclusive content, event recordings and our Members’ Directory – allowing members to contact and network with RSTMH members across the globe. If you are interested in contributing content to the Members’ Area, claire [dot] coveney [at] RSTMH [dot] org (please do get in touch).

2021 also saw the re-launch of the Presidents Fund, which was originally established in 1991 to help potential RSTMH members from low and low middle income countries pay for their annual membership subscription. Look out for the next round of funding, which will be launched in our newsletter in Summer 2022.

Our Events

In 2021 we ran 12 events on a number of topics around global health. These included: trachoma elimination, schistosomiasis, disability and inclusion in NTDs, vaccines for blood-stage malaria, One Health, Covid and infection R&D, neglected contexts in global health, health inequalities, TB and HIV diagnostics.

This year’s Annual Meeting focused on drug resistant infections and included contributors from around the world discussing national surveillance systems, policy implementation, the funding landscape and included an address from Dame Sally Davies, UK Special Envoy on Antimicrobial Resistance and Lord Jim O'Neill, Chair, Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. Earlier this month we announced that the topic of the RSTMH Annual Meeting 2022 will be on Malaria, and will be held at the beginning of October.

We’ve also established new partnerships with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the London Centre for NTD Research to deliver webinars, allowing us to reach an even bigger audience.

Our Medals and Awards

In 2021 we were again able to recognise success in our sector at all career stages. We presented the Emerging Leaders Award to Peter Macharia, The Chalmers Medal to Professor Charles Wondji and the Sir Rickard Christophers Medal to Professor Liz Corbett. In partnership with LSTM, the Hemingway Award was presented to Dr Maria Eugenia Grillet. Congratulations again to all our award recipients!

Our Student Ambassadors

This year saw our Student Ambassadors progamme grow substantially.  RSTMH currently has 54 Student Ambassadors in post across 24 countries. Our Student Ambassadors deserve a worldwide moment of thanks and celebration for their efforts. Despite significant change and disruptions to their education and communities, they have taken an active role in promoting RSTMH, by facilitating research, sharing knowledge, and driving impact. They are the instrumental link between students, institutions and RSTMH and make the most valuable contribution to assisting us in achieving our vision and mission.

Our Country Ambassadors

This year we welcomed Country Ambassadors in Sri Lanka, Palestine, Cameroon, Armenia and Benin to the RSTMH network. Our current Country Ambassadors are experts in their fields who help connect us with our members, supporters and networks outside the UK. Find out more about being a country ambassador here.

Our Journals

Throughout 2021 we were pleased to receive over 400 submissions from Transactions, and over 270 from International Health in the last year. We also published the following special issues and supplements.

  • Special Issue: Neglected Tropical Diseases: Planning for the Next Decade of Progress (February, Transactions)
  • Special Issue: Modelling the Potential Impact of Covid-19 Related Programme Interruptions on Seven Neglected Tropical Diseases (March, Transactions)
  • Special Issue: Mycetoma (April, Transactions)

We were delighted that the impact factor for both our journals grew in 2021. The impact factor for Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene increased from 1.868 to 2.184. While International Health showed impressive growth in its twelfth year, moving from 1.664 to 2.473. Finally, we were pleased to welcome seven new editorial board members.

Our Partnerships

In the last year we were really excited to start some more partnerships to support our work. We worked with the SCI Foundation to develop priorities for the G7 in the area of One Health for Uniting to Combat NTDs. We also launched a three-year dissemination partnership with Sightsavers to raise awareness of their work through our journals, along with social media and our networks. If your organisation would like to find out more about how RSTMH can help disseminate your work tamar [dot] ghosh [at] RSTMH [dot] org (please get in touch).

Our Presidents and Governance

Janet Hemingway

This year also saw changes to our presidency. We welcomed Professor Janet Hemingway as our new President in October, as Professor Gail Davey moved to the role of Past President. Simon Bush took up the role of President Elect, and Professor David Mabey moved from Past President to Vice President. We thank Professor Wendy Harrison for her incredible contributions as Vice President.

We also welcomed six new Trustees: Drs' Buddha Basnyat, Said Jongo and Quudus Yusuff, and Professors' George Varghese, Oulefemi Adewole and Pramod Samantaray. 

These appointments helped us achieve a goal of our current strategy to ensure the Board includes influence of those from countries in which the diseases we are fighting are endemic. We also thank Professors Christopher Parry, Malcolm Molyneux, Sharon Cox and Wendy Harrison for their support as their terms of office came to an end.  

Our Competitions

Earlier this year we partnered with the European Congress on Tropical Medicine and International Health (ECTMIH 2021) to launch a photo competition, “Global Challenges in Health: Your stories from around the world” to find the most engaging photographic representation of the work being done to address the global challenges in health. The winner of the contest – "My father is my hero" by Mithail Afrige Chowdhury (pictured top) – was voted for by the attendees of the Congress hosted virtually by the Centre for International Health (CIH) at the University of Bergen (UiB). We also ran a Student Essay Competition and will be announcing the winner in the new year.

Our Communication Channels

Our digital communications channels continued to grow throughout 2021, including the reach of our social networks. This year, the number of followers to our Twitter account reached over 25,000, while our newsletter reaches an audience of over 10,000.

Losses to Global Health

Unfortunately, this year also saw some sad losses to RSTMH and the global health sector. We were sad to learn that long standing Fellows and close friends of the society, Professor Richard Carter, Dr Alan Clements, Dr Donald Minter and Professor David Warhurst passed away. Recently, we were very sad to hear that former Trustee, and long-standing Fellow, Professor Malcolm Molyneux also passed away. We will miss them and send their families our love.

Team Changes

This year has also been a year of change for the team. We said goodbye to our Digital Communications Manager Sarah Marzouk, and our Meetings and Events Manager Adriana Thursby Pelham, who have both worked for RSTMH for a number of years. We also said goodbye to our Grants Manager Gil Shalom and Team and Office Administrator Rowan Wilkinson, whose contracts both came to an end. We wish them well in their new roles. 

We also had some new starters this year. We welcomed Ella Green to the role of Team and Office Administrator and Alice Sharman to the role of Digital Communications Manager.

Challenges and Opportunities

This year brought many challenges, as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to cause disruption around the world, making travel particularly difficult. 

This year we had the opportunity to commission and provide focus on a number of important diseases including Rabies, Noma, Mucormycosis, leptospirosis, malaria, trachoma, AMR, mycetoma, drug resistant infections

On the achievements of our research partners, our Past President Professor Gail Davey said:

"I continue to be hugely impressed by the resilience and trust of our research partners around the world. We’ve not only had to adapt our fieldwork procedures, but the entire way in which we build and strengthen our partnerships.

"Diminished in-person contact has tested the foundations of our collaborations and has made us all treasure the rare times we can meet. It’s the same for RSTMH – we’ve continued to make progress over the past year because of the depth of relationships forged prior to this."

COVID-19 has stretched and challenged all health systems, as all countries try and find a way to minimise harm and loss. It has also meant focus being taken off many other areas of global health as capacity has been redirected and shared more thinly.

We speak for many in sharing our thanks and respect to everyone working in our sector for their commitment to health this year, despite challenging personal situations for so many. We hope that COVID-19 will leave among all of its legacies a greater understanding of global collaboration and innovation to tackle both new and existing diseases.


Our Fundraising

2021 saw a development in our fundraising, which included us welcoming three new Friends of RSTMH, a founding group of supporters who have provided £250 to support RSTMH’s work at this challenging time.

However, like many in the sector, we have seen a drop in our income from some activities like our events. Now, more than ever, we believe our work to strengthen the careers of those in global health, particularly those just starting out who are the future leaders of the sector, is even more crucial, as we move through this pandemic.

To help us continue this work, however, we need your financial support

This year has been a tough year for our global community. In the UK the cuts to government funding, and challenges of achieving justice and equity in the role out of vaccines across the world has been disheartening to watch. However, it has brought into focus the importance of our partnerships and our networks and inspired us to do even more next year, on our own and with others. 

We look forward to continuing to work towards our ambitious and important goals in 2022 and working with you all on this exciting journey.