It’s an opportunity to discuss data and research protocols and brainstorm in real time. It provides a springboard for national and international cooperation that can move promising treatments from laboratories to clinics worldwide. These meetings, more akin to classrooms, also help further the education of our scientists, particularly early-career investigators who we need to stay in the field if we are to be serious about retaining U.S. leadership in science and innovation.
Tropical medicine is a complex, diverse and rapidly changing field. Recent research shows drug-resistant malaria is spreading and could be our next global public health disaster. But this deadly serious problem is just one in a long list of agenda items at the ASTMH meeting. The participation of Army and Navy physicians and scientist is critical if we are to achieve optimal, cost-effective communication of research findings and generate the ideas needed to conceive and execute the research studies that will bring us the next generation of interventions to protect our troops, international travelers, aid workers, diplomatic personnel and the underserved populations worldwide, who suffer most from these afflictions.
If we expect our military research and development professionals to perform high-quality research, this cannot be conducted in a vacuum.
No doubt, online journals and webinars can provide information, but there’s no substitute for face-to-face interactions to build collaborations, particularly when the topic at hand is how best to save lives. Those of us who do this work know that successful research projects and new discoveries rely on collaboration and exchange of scientific information.
In addition, broad and poorly justified proscriptions on participating in professional organizations are devastating to morale. They will be an impetus for the most experienced to leave government service and a reason for young talented physicians and scientists to pursue professional careers elsewhere.
Smart decisions need to be made about U.S. investments in research and development so that promising research can continue to deliver. We have come too far to allow our efforts to stall. At risk is no less than the health of our soldiers, the related global security and America’s long-standing reputation as the mecca of research in tropical medicine. Let’s put science before politics. Maybe scientists can teach Washington a lesson or two on collaboration.
Dr. Alan J. Magill is past president and a fellow of the American Society of Tropical Medicine’s clinical group and a fellow of the society. He is a former director of the Division of Experimental Therapeutics at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. Dr. Stephen L. Hoffman is chief executive and scientific officer of Sanaria Inc. He is a past president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and past president of the society’s clinical group. He is a former director of the Malaria Program at the Naval Medical Research Center.