This was no ordinary summit, it was the first ever Global Evidence Summit to be hosted in Africa and it lived up to its status-from the organization, pre-conference events, the attendance, the location, the presentations, workshops were all spectacular. The following are the reasons why I may already be preparing to attend the next one! Kudoz to the organizers.
To begin with, the assistance received during the booking for the conference and accommodation was seamless, everything came together just at the click of a button-this was immensely valuable to me who was attending from outside South Africa.
I was lucky to have been signed up for a number of pre-conference events, notably the JBI-Comprehensive Systematic Review Training and the South African MRC-Cochrane Qualitative Evidence Synthesis workshop. Both events were deeply enriching for a young researcher like myself in the evidence synthesis arena. The trainings were to pave way for more sessions during the conference days and equally prepared me for the tons of wonderful plenary presentations.
The conference kicked off with high level key note presentations-my take home points from which were-networking is the solution to scarcity of resources and evidence based practice is not an option in the 21st century.
The subsequent plenary sessions were equally enchanting-particularly one that gave an inside on how rapid reviews can be useful in emergency situations-as healthcare professionals, we always imagine that WHO should have a reflex and relevant response ready for any emerging situation, not appreciating the intricacies involved in coming up with guidelines under such situations like during the 2014/2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. I was also quite taken a back as a young researcher took the road less traveled and presented jaw-dropping findings of a systematic review of pre-clinical studies of the MVA85A/AERAS-485 vaccine-something that I know challenged all the vaccine researchers out there.
For someone with the agenda of building capacity in the area of evidence synthesis, the parallel sessions offered a myriad of selections often one was faced with a dilemma of selecting one session over another as they all sounded very enticing from the beautifully laid out schedule-I chose to stick to my interest in workshops on quantitative methodology and rapid reviews and I must admit they did not disappoint.
The booths and poster presentations had so much to offer, it was impossible to attend to each one of them. The few posters that I had a chance to visit were explicably done and the booths very inviting indeed. Its as if everything seemed to compete for a share of the attention of the delegates within the three short conference days.
This summit had enchanting “extra-curricular” activities starting from the welcome reception that helped us unwind after a whole day of information overload. We all were carried away in the traditional South African drumming and vuvuzela experience as we moved with the dance rhythm of the entertainers adorned in traditional regalia. The clowns on stilts particularly amused me during the reception cocktail while I took the opportunity to network. The boot dance sessions and the gala dinner were entertaining in equal measure.
All in all, the conference had a good balance of what is useful during such a forum-content and contacts. And there were over 1300 of the latter, from over 77 countries!
Of particular note was the first physical meeting with all GESI network members, which was both humbling and encouraging. The enthusiasm to engage in evidence synthesis and to support each other was palpable.
Judging from the wonderful experience above, I am already looking forward to attending the next GES! But before then, I carry the burden of advancing the use of evidence to improve lives.