I recently had the pleasure of attending my first international conference, the 65th Annual General Meeting for the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) in Atlanta, Georgia. The conference was held at the Marriott hotel in the heart of downtown Atlanta. This being my first trip to Georgia, I was absolutely spoiled by the warm weather (+20ºC in the middle of November), the delicious food, and the southern hospitality I received when visiting different venues and walking around the neighborhood. A definite highlight of the trip was visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the David J. Sencer Museum.
The conference itself spanned over five days and was easily the largest one I’ve ever attended. The conference started with a pre-meeting course I registered for titled, “The Science of Disease Elimination”, which I found to be quite enlightening. The course featured several different speakers and covered a wide range of topics from statistical modelling to political and financial support. The day only got better as the opening reception and keynote address was given by Dr. Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), who spoke about Zika.
I had the pleasure of presenting my research via a poster presentation. The poster I presented focused on work I am doing as part of my PhD, using molecular diagnostics to survey the burden and clinical impact of submicroscopic malaria in pregnancy in Colombia. I developed an RT-qPCR based method to distinguish submicroscopic malaria infections at the species level (Plasmodium falciparum or P. vivax) and we used this assay to assess the disease burden in pregnant women. We found that submicroscopic malaria occurs frequently in pregnancy but despite this, is not associated with negative birth outcomes. My poster was well received and generated a lot of interest from other researchers working in a similar field.
What I got most out of the conference was the opportunity to engage with my peers, as well as meeting and discussing my work with some very well respected researchers in the field. Memorable moments included talking about career paths with Dr. Peter Crompton from NIH, listening to a talk by Dr. Kayvan Zainabadi from the University of Maryland about a new highly-sensitive diagnostic method for malaria using dried blood spots, meeting trainees from Dr. Kevin Kane’s lab (one of our lab group’s collaborators) at the University of Toronto, and discussing my research with Dr. Stephen Rogerson from the University of Melbourne. It was a great overall experience and it would not have been possible without the support from HPI which allowed to attend the conference.