The inaugural Emmet A. Dennis Scientific Conference (EANDSC 1.0) was held on August 27-29, 2018 with a theme of “Fostering the culture of evidence-based public health practice and research in Liberia.” Its success reflected joint organizing efforts of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), the Liberia Field Epidemiology and Training Program (LFETP), and the University of Liberia (UL). Stakeholders at these and other institutions recognized the need for increased awareness of research, since its impact will be important for not only educating people about the need for science to help guide everyday healthy decisions but also encouraging a new generation of scientists in Liberia.
In response to a call for participation in the conference, 110 abstracts were submitted on research work by Liberians with varying backgrounds for presentation. A competitive assessment process of the abstracts involved public health and clinical experts from across the United States, Europe, and Africa. These individuals represented the far-reaching and diverse research partnerships that have been developed with Liberian scientists. 45 and 65 projects were selected for oral and poster presentations, respectively, on topics that ranged from Environmental Health to Maternal and Neonatal Health to Zoonoses. Oral and poster presenters were from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture, AM Dogliotti Medical School, the University of Liberia College of Science & Technology, Adventist University of West Africa, NPHIL Technical Divisions, PREVAIL Research Teams, and the Liberia College of Physicians and Surgeons, among others.
300 students, university faculty and administrators, researchers, frontline workers, and other health sector professionals attended the 2018 conference.
They partook in presentations, skills workshops, question and answer sessions, and a team problem-solving challenge. One of the skills workshops included demonstrations on bat trapping and sampling by the PREDICT team, which was recently responsible for the first finding of Zaire ebola virus in a bat in West
There were also 14 plenary talks by Liberian researchers and international development partners and a panel discussion on the role of research in guiding clinical study and practice. The panel discussion reflected the growing importance of clinical research in Liberia and the need for continued collaboration between
researchers and medical practitioners.
A major highlight of the conference included an opening speech by the honoree Dr. Emmet A. Dennis, who was the founding director of the Liberia Institute of Biomedical Research and who has a decades-long history of teaching, research and mentoring in Liberia and abroad. Dr. Dennis’ message emphasized that brilliant scientists and artists, like Einstein and Shakespeare, did not have access to the complex technologies now available and yet they had history-changing impact. He encouraged the young Liberians in attendance to not
be deterred by some of the limitations when studying and working in a post-conflict setting. He closed hopefully by emphasizing his conviction that the “best available mechanism for developing relevant research is the long-term collaborative relationships that will build human and infrastructure capacity with emphasis on collaboration, ethics, and integrity.”
Participants raved about the highly educational content of the conference, and the inspiration imparted by the speakers, including Dr. Dennis, leadership from the Africa Field Epidemiology Network, the Director General of NPHIL, the University of Liberia President, a recent PhD graduate returning to Liberia, head of Information Systems at the Ministry of Health, and development partners, played a large role in that. On the
third day of the conference, Dr. Mosoka Fallah, Deputy Director General for Technical Services at NPHIL, teasingly asked the audience if they would like for the conference to be extended beyond its scheduled closing time. The resounding “Yes” that resulted was evidence enough that the Emmet A. Dennis Scientific Conference would become a longstanding tradition whereby Liberian scientists could increasingly contribute to advances in Global Health.
Quotes from EADNSC 1.0:
“Unless we take this suggestions and other rational approaches, Liberians will continue to remain spectators in global contemporary health research. NPHIL, the challenge is ours. The University of Liberia and all tertiary institutions in
Liberia, the challenge is ours. The Ministries of Health and Education, the challenge is ours. Let’s work towards engendering and fostering a strong culture of research in Liberia.” – Fatorma Bolay
“I remember the day I wept because I could not perform a Western blot; I eventually became an expert [in the technique] and co-reviewer with my PI- Dr. Bondada” –Mosoka Fallah
“I’m a PhD Candidate at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. My PhD work focuses on health financing for maternal health services in Kenya, but today I will be sharing some findings from a paper I worked on with colleagues from the Maternal Healthcare Markets Evaluation team at LSHTM.”
“USAID’s new global health project, Infectious Diseases Detection & Surveillance, is coming soon to 12 countries, including Liberia. This may include targeted operational research to enhance the effectiveness of the national laboratory health system in Liberia.”
“The importance of conducting clinical research in Africa despite the many challenges to do so outweighs constraints subdued. As more Clinical Research of circumstantial Relevance is done, capacity will be built and future health care delivery system will be greatly improved.” – Moses Massaquoi
“The conference was unique and educative especially for the student” – Conference attendee
Dr. Laura Skrip (Public Health Specialist)
Chairperson of Scientific Committee, Inaugural Conference