How the ISTH Congress Impacts Members from Reach-the-World Countries
By Aaron Iding, M.D.
The ISTH strives to be a diverse, multi-cultural community that cultivates research and clinical practice in thrombosis and hemostasis worldwide. In this pursuit, the ISTH focusses on improving representation in low-to-middle-income countries, referred to as Reach-the-World (RTW) countries. Through the efforts of ISTH, RTW membership has grown by 18% in the last five years. Further growth is expected with the launch of collaborative memberships, in which ISTH partners with related societies to create discounted membership opportunities. In this article, we share stories from two RTW members to illustrate how ISTH impacted their career and environment.
Omolade Awodu, M.B.Ch.B., F.M.C.Path., is a professor of hematology at the University of Benin and a consultant hematologist at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital in Benin City, Nigeria. In 2020, she was elected as a member of the ISTH Council, overseeing all aspects of the Society. She still lively recalls attending her first ISTH Congress.
“It was in 2009 at Boston,” Awodu said. “I came on my own using a travel grant to give a poster presentation. I remember how someone came to my poster, smiled and encouraged me, and then went on to tell me my assays were actually outdated. It surprised me, but also motivated me to keep attending the congress so I can keep up to date on developments in my field.”
Awodu explains how care for thrombosis and hemostasis in Nigeria is underdeveloped.
“Not many people are interested in the field, so it’s sort of a ‘no man’s land’ and everybody seems to be doing their own thing,” she said, adding that her visit to the 2013 ISTH Congress was the start of a breakthrough. “I attended a masterclass by Professor [Andreas] Greinacher [M.D., Ph.D., University of Greifswald, Germany], and he encouraged me to join the education committee at ISTH. I immediately saw the prospect for RTW countries.”
In 2016, the ISTH education committee approved her proposal for an ISTH-supported workshop in Nigeria. “The Society supported us by sponsoring three international and one regional experts as speakers for the workshop,” she said.
The workshop was a huge success and culminated in the first guideline for treatment of venous thromboembolism in Nigeria. “We looked at what was achievable in our country, and support by international experts really helped gain national acceptance,” Awodu said.
Now, their committee has grown to about 25 Nigerian experts and aims to develop additional guidelines in hemostasis and thrombosis. With support from the ISTH and personal ingenuity from Awodu, the Nigerian thrombosis and hemostasis community is leading the way for other countries in the West-African subregion.
Boby Pratama Putra, M.D., is a general practitioner in Blitar, Indonesia. He always had a particular interest in thrombosis care, and when the ISTH Congress in 2020 was held online, he took the opportunity to attend the Congress for the first time.
“I experienced it as really motivating,” Putra said. “Afterwards, I educated myself further using the ISTH Academy platform and took a dive into the literature. I performed several systematic reviews and submitted four abstracts for the next Congress in 2021.”
Although interaction with peers during the Congress was difficult due to the time difference, Putra hopes that ISTH will continue to allow online attendance at future congresses.
“It has made the congress much more accessible for members from RTW countries, because physical attendance is financially challenging and travel grants are limited,” he said.
Putra enjoys doing research and dreams about attaining a Ph.D. in the future, but he has not been able to find a supervisor.
“There’s not really a research culture among physicians in Indonesia; everyone is too busy doing clinical work and there’s limited funding,” he said.
Awodu also points this out as a major problem in many RTW countries. “We really lack mentors; even our mentors could use mentoring from international figures in the field,” she said. “Again, Professor Greinacher has been so helpful. He attends our yearly hematology conference and mentors many young Nigerian hematologists; two of them have enjoyed training in his lab and there currently is collaborative research between their institutes. We could really use more people like him who are willing to sacrifice their time for us.”
A major issue addressed by both RTW members is the lack of local research. “We now need to extrapolate western data to our countries, but this might not be applicable to our situation. It would be much better if we would gather our own data” Putra said.
It would be very helpful, Awodu suggests, if there would be research grants specifically for data registries in RTW countries. “But I also think it would be great if we could have a special session at the Congress where these particular challenges for RTW countries could be addressed,” she said. “Such a session would provide RTW members with a platform to discuss how to move forward and inform others about their needs.”
Awodu encourages RTW members to not just participate in the congress, but truly become stakeholders in the ISTH organization. “The Society is really embracing diversity, inclusiveness, and equity,” she explained. “Recently, we got our first president-elect from a RTW country [Pantep Angchaisuksiri, M.D., of Thailand]. I’ve always felt so accepted, and serving in committees provided me with insights that allowed me to improve care in my home country and inspire others.”
Learn more about Reach-the-World membership, fellowships and other opportunities here.