RSTMH - Challenges in Disease Elimination
23 Sep 2016
Matty Sayer

No usual global health conference jolly to be had this time – we were in Cambridge for RSTMH’s Challenges in Disease Elimination conference in a professional capacity. RSTMH plays a leading role in increasing awareness of issues in tropical medicine and global health, and social media is an area in which they’re increasing their efforts. That’s where we came in with a bit of help.

Engaging new audiences requires interesting content

An event packed with experts in disease elimination was an ideal way to generate scientific content to prick the ears of those who were unable to attend, and raise the profile of RSTMH as advocates for the advance in the study, control and prevention of tropical disease.

My job was to pick out the key messages of each lecture, and what constitutes the key messages is subjective stuff. Given the richness of material available, everybody would cover it in a slightly different way.

Contributing to the buzz

As a result of their efforts in social media, over the period covered, RSTMH have seen the following improvements:

  • Impressions are up 123.9%
  • Profile visits are up 57.3%
  • Mentions are up 250%
  • 117 new followers gained

It was a privilege to have attended the event, we hope our contribution to the coverage did justice to the speakers, and that it kick-started RSTMH’s surge into new audiences.

Here's a heavily trimmed roundup of the event based on what resonated personally. There have been some criminal ommissions, so links to the videos will be posted when they're available.

Prof Heymann, LSHTM on Polio

Professor David Heymann opened the week on Polio eradication, and the lessons it can teach the global health community about potential pitfalls of future elimination programmes. He ended with his golden rule of elimination – use the interventions and tools that are available today, don’t wait for the “magic bullet”.

Professor Heymann also brought up the importance of maintaining political impetus as an elimination programme reaches the end game, and being wary of unknown reservoirs of disease in the animal kingdom. The latter point was echoed in the One Health session, which promoted collaboration between human and veterinary public health.

One Health

With many advocates of One Health based in Africa, where zoonotic diseases and communities that live alongside livestock are commonplace, the One Health session created great engagement on twitter. The message of equitable health, from impassioned speakers, made an impact, we're really excited about what One Health can achieve.

Professor Sarah Cleaveland of Glasgow University remarked that the veterinary sector has used work in zoonotic diseases to establish a platform of trust with rural communities that have poor access to healthcare. Prof Cleaveland used MDA in Uganda as an example of how socioeconomic status and minority group affiliation determined access to treatment.

She suggested treating zoonotic diseases in their animal reservoirs as a means to provide a more equitable treatment – humans with poor healthcare access would receive equal protection if preventative treatment against zoonoses was provided at the source, rather than as a reaction when signs of infection appeared in humans.

One Health has a unique challenge of engaging the medical profession, and alleviating the sense of mistrust that seems to exist. A potential unifying factor is Sustainable Development Goals – if veterinary and medical professions are working toward the same goals, collaboration and partnership will hopefully follow.

Dr Wendy Harrison of Schistosomiasis Control Initiative summed up the session by noting that the next global pandemic will come from a zoonotic source, and we need established partnerships in order to be prepared.

Corporate responsibility

Dr Roy Vagelos, former CEO of MSD told the story of Ivermectin development as part of his address on corporate responsibility in disease elimination. Knowing that those most in need could never afford treatment for onchocerciasis, Roy made the decision to donate it, remarking that a company’s character is defined by how it responds to such circumstances.

Mapping podoconiosis

Winner of the RSTMH Emerging Leader award Kebede Deribe spoke of his podoconiosis mapping project in Ethiopia – and championed mapping as a crucial factor of elimination programmes for their ability to establish priorities, determine patterns that can shape predictive risk maps, and present data to effectively communicate findings which are key to engaging governments and decision makers.