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New from MESA: Conferences without walls

October 28, 2019 - 16:11 -- MESA Alliance

It’s Sunday evening in Yaoundé, Cameroon, and the four young career researchers that will cover the 6th Pan-African Mosquito Control Association (PAMCA) Annual Conference as MESA Correspondents have finally met each other. After many email exchanges, it’s time to put faces to names. While sharing a tasty Cameroonian meal, the group discusses how scientific meetings offer the opportunity of hearing cutting edge research and valuable lessons learnt from peers and mentors, but are also the perfect environment to exchange information, generate new ideas and gain knowledge and skills. Together with the MESA team, the group discusses the program and the presentations that each Correspondent will have to report on and realises how both broad and niche disciplines in the field of malaria and related topics will be covered in the meeting. Another point of discussion is the fact that a growing number of conferences are held globally, but as both calendars and budgets are limited, not everyone interested in all these meetings can attend.

To cover these gaps, the MESA Correspondents program aims to share the key take-home messages emerging from meetings and conferences with a global audience in real-time, providing, in parallel, training and networking opportunities to the young researchers who are selected as MESA Correspondents. The volunteers, supported through a travel scholarship, are tasked with the challenge of writing short summaries of the highlights and technical content of the presentations. At the end of the day, the MESA team pieces together all the summaries into a daily chronicle, shared the following day through several communications channels.

Throughout all this process, the group also has the support from experienced scientists that guide and supervise the work of the Correspondents while enhancing interaction with the speakers for the validation of their talks and other networking opportunities.  These “live reports” not only capture the science being presented at the meeting but also give a taste of the ambience for those reading from elsewhere.

The “live reporting” aspect is a special niche of the program. Behind the final published daily reports, the whole team faces a hectic schedule of note-taking, writing, reviewing and fact-checking. This demanding rhythm also contributes to creating a feeling of camaraderie and closeness. The program is also an excellent opportunity for networking and recognition among the malaria community, as well as a remarkable chance to expand knowledge and boost learning.

It’s 11 pm in Yaoundé. The Correspondents have three intensive days ahead of hard work and, even though note-taking may help them beat the jetlag, a good night sleep will contribute too. By the end of the conference, the Correspondents will know each other very well. They will have shared breakfasts with coffee on one side and the laptop on another while discussing whether to say X or Y, they will have felt the nerves while waiting for the coffee break to ask a detail to one of the speakers, and they will have cheered each other to get that word that fits perfectly on their report.

The nature of the program makes it highly demanding and sometimes tiring. However, the Correspondents agree on the benefits of volunteering as a MESA Correspondent for their work and career in malaria. According to one of the Correspondents in Cameroon, “the program offers a rare and unique opportunity to young scientists working on malaria research to attend conferences”. A colleague echoes the impact of the program on their career: “My participation in this program was a wise investment and will pay off for years to come. The MESA Correspondents program is a voluntary activity which facilitates the induction and networking of young scientists (mostly students, early-careers) in a broader research environment full of senior researchers”.

The program also adds value to the conferences covered. On the one hand, the reporting helps increase visibility and publicity, broadcasting the conference proceedings in almost real-time to the wider public. On the other hand, the final collection of daily reports can be used by the conference organizers internally and externally, providing a report of the meeting that can be used and consulted anytime.

Overall, the whole malaria community benefits from the program, as anyone can read what happened at the meeting almost in real-time. A Senior Research Fellow at the University of Benin comments: “Thank you for your update on malaria issues. Your update during the MIM Pan-African Malaria Conference in Dakar was great. Keep it up”. Correspondents also agree: “The program does an incredible job of informing the world about recent trends in malaria research”.

Some examples of previous editions include, in addition to the 6th Pan-African Mosquito Control Association (PAMCA) Annual Meeting, the 7th International Conference on Plasmodium vivax Research (ICPVR), and the 5th International Conference on Malaria Vaccines for the World (MVW). All the Correspondents’ voices from previous editions are collected in the Correspondents Section from the MESA website. But we want to go further. What are we missing? What Conferences do you want to attend through the eyes of the Correspondents? You can let us know here. Or maybe you would like to feel the satisfaction of seeing your words reaching a wider audience? Apply to become a Correspondent!   

The next edition of the MESA Correspondents program will cover “The Malaria Endgame: Innovation in Therapeutics, Vector Control and Public Health Tools” Keystone Symposia that will take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Both the Keystone Symposia and the MESA Alliance share the vision and mission of ensuring that researchers, implementers and policy makers have access to the latest evidence, as well as connecting scientists within and across disciplines. Therefore, this Keystone Symposia meeting is a great platform for this program. The Correspondents will be able to take advantage of the meeting format to maximize contact with the presenters and enhance networking. They will also gain knowledge on the three themes around which the conference is organized: drug and insecticide resistance, leveraging data science to better understand disease transmission, and innovation in vector control strategies. If you want to keep posted, subscribe to the MESA newsletter to receive the daily reports on your inbox.

We are excited about covering this 3rd Keystone Symposia meeting on malaria, especially with such an exciting opening session with an address from Dr Tedros, Director-General of the World Health Organization. Let the eyes and ears of the MESA Correspondents be your guide for the week from inside the walls of the Hilton Hotel with daily updates sent straight to your inbox.