Sarita Panday and Julie Balen recently attended the 10th European Congress on Tropical Medicine and International Health (ECTMIH), held in Antwerp, Belgium. Beyond presentations of their research from Nepal and The Gambia, Sarita and Julie reflect on what they gained from attending the conference, and what some of their main take home messages were.
ECTMIH is a biennial event that brings together scientists and experts from Europe and from all over the world, including a large proportion of delegates from low and middle income countries (LMICs), as well as many of the Emerging Voices. It is patronised by the Federation of European Societies of Tropical Medicine and International Health (FESTMIH). Both Sarita and Julie were impressed by the huge representation of countries and regions at the conference. There was a great diversity of scholars and research presented from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, giving the conference a truly international flavour.
Similarly, there was a wide range and breadth of disciplines represented, including some in sessions that ran using rather innovative formats. Julie attended the Emerging Voices session entitled “Making Promises, Breaking Commitments: What is the Role of Health Policy and Systems Research in Transforming Political Commitments into Better Health Systems?”. The format of this session was an interactive debate with pre- and post-debate voting by the audience. Both sides put forward an impassioned and convincing set of arguments for and against the motion: “health policy and systems research (HPSR) has focused too much on evidence, blind to the fact that policy is about interests, values, power and politics, which has made HPSR largely irrelevant to the creation and implementation of political commitments”. The audience was fairly divided, and some even tried to vote for and against, seeing both sides of the argument.
Of particular interest to Sarita and Julie were the numerous sessions focussing on community engagement and participation, given the focus of the ESRC project Sarita and Julie are both involved in, as well as Julie’s Global Health Trials funded study. Sarita will shortly be heading Nepal for fieldwork using video-voice methodology for data collection. Although no sessions focussed specifically on video-voice, there was a session entitled “The Power of the Image: Use of Multimedia in Health Research, Advocacy and Dissemination” which explored the use of photovoice to explore aspects of social inclusion/exclusion of children with special needs in Uganda. This session also explored use of video for advocacy and research, as well as agenda setting in the Indian health policy sphere.
Finally, one stimulating aspect of the conference is that all delegates were encouraged to attend at least 1 session in a different field or discipline to what they themselves work on. Indeed this kind of cross-disciplinary thinking was encouraged throughout the conference by ensuring that all the Opening, Plenary and Closing Sessions included speakers focussing on the basic science / clinical aspects of global health, as well as the applied science / implementation aspects of global health. Breaktime discussions with other delegates from a range of disciplines were aided by this kind of formal attempt at cross-fertilisation of ideas. We hope that future conferences continue to find ways of breaking down the silos that we all commonly find ourselves in. Overall, ECTMIH was a successful conference and Sarita and Julie represented Sheffield University, engaged with alumni, and met old and new colleagues and collaborators, whilst also presenting and gaining feedback on their research.