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A Conference without Borders: MSF Scientific Days 2016

Paul Simpson, Deputy Editor of PLOS Medicine, looks forward to this year’s Médecins Sans Frontières Scientific Days.

One of the highlights of my year is to attend the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Scientific Days, a conference that aims to showcase and debate the research performed by MSF, its academic partners and other humanitarian organizations. The scale of the meeting has steadily increased over the last few years and the tag line of “a conference without borders” is apt.

This year the MSF Scientific Days will take place in London at the Royal Society of Medicine on the 20th & 21st May and will cover medical research and the innovation evidence that underpins humanitarian operations. The entire conference will be streamed live online in both English and French and will be followed by linked events in India (28th May) and South Africa (9th June).

The conference often serves as a bellwether and I’ve reflected many times over the last two years on a 2014 late-breaker talk by Armand Sprecher as I’ve followed the response, research and commentary that has followed the devastating West African Ebola epidemic. Dr Sprecher’s talk was entitled “The 2014 Guinea Ebola Outbreak – The Challenge of Complexity and Scale”. At the time of the 2014 conference the death toll was reported to be 182 and the talk was followed by an open discussion of why MSF devotes resources to Ebola over other diseases. By the end of 2014 the death toll had climbed over 7800 and an estimated €59 million had been spent by MSF on its response to Ebola. Unsurprisingly a substantial proportion of the 2015 conference was devoted to Ebola research, and the epidemic is now estimated to have killed in excess of 11,000 people wreaking havoc across the region.

What can we look forward to from talks on medical research presented at this year’s conference? As one might expect research on the day-to-day challenges faced by MSF care providers will be covered with sessions on HIV, infectious disease outbreaks, falsified medicines, and snakebites. However, the current migration crises affecting the Middle East and Europe will also be covered in detail with a session on the consequences of conflict on migration and mental health plus a keynote presentation from Zaher Sahloul, past-President and current Head of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) Global Response. I’m also looking forward to a debate on whether the ethics overview system for research in emergencies is fit for purpose, an important opportunity for reflection on the challenge of conducting ethically and scientifically sound research in the midst of challenging circumstances.

I’m always pleased to attend the MSF Scientific day and thrilled to see so much of what is presented there eventually published across the PLOS family of journals. MSF’s commitment to publishing their research open access and the efforts that are made to share the content of the scientific days in real time and post-event chime with PLOS’s open science mission. I’m looking forward to this year’s conference which promises to be as strong and relevant as ever.

Competing Interests: PS was part of the MSF Scientific Days Editorial committee for evaluating submissions and PLOS Medicine is one of this year’s sponsors.

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