The Hematologist

September-October 2019, Volume 16, Issue 5

Global Thoughts Become Global Actions

Roy L. Silverstein, MD 2019 President, American Society of Hematology; Chair and Linda and John Mellowes Professor of Medicine
Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI

Published on: August 22, 2019

Blood diseases span borders, and it’s important that ASH does, too. We are committed to helping hematologists conquer blood diseases worldwide. This is our tagline — one that is both inspirational and aspirational. This worldwide mission is reflected by our membership, which comes from nearly 100 countries, and 41 percent of the nearly 30,000 2018 Annual Meeting attendees came from outside of the United States, which is truly impressive.

Since 2018, one of the eight elected councillor positions on the ASH Executive Committee is reserved for a non–North American member, which is important in helping the leadership understand the needs of our international members. Many of our international efforts are coordinated through the International Members Committee, chaired by Dr. Theresa Coetzer from South Africa, and international members populate nearly every ASH committee, task force, and editorial board. The current editor-in-chief and incoming deputy editor of our flagship journal, Blood, are non–North American, as are nearly half of the associate editors.

At a high level, the international footprint of ASH is broad and highly impactful, supporting research, education, training, and patient care, with significant focus on building capacity in less developed regions. A great strength of ASH is our ability to convene diverse groups to tackle difficult problems by facilitating collaboration and the exchange of information. Examples include the International Consortium on Acute Leukemia in Latin America, the Children’s International Consortium on Acute Leukemia in the Caribbean, and the Latin American Aplastic Anemia Registry. As part of our major initiative in sickle cell disease (SCD), ASH is working with a variety of partners, including the United States Department of Health and Human Services, to help reduce the burden of SCD in Sub-Saharan Africa. ASH supports development of an African Newborn SCD Screening and Early Intervention Consortium in Africa, and in July, the Society convened a very productive meeting of the Consortium in Johannesburg. Plans are now advancing to launch newborn screening efforts in the initial three countries by this fall. Overall, we saw many valuable opportunities for networking among clinical and governmental champions representing a growing list of African countries.

Another ASH international success story is the Highlights of ASH (HOA) meetings held in Latin America, Asia Pacific, and, beginning in 2019, the Mediterranean. These meetings are held in partnership with hematology societies around the world, bringing content experts from ASH to these sites to distill and share hematology research with the highest clinical impact from the ASH annual meeting with hematologists who were not able to travel to the U.S. I was fortunate to participate in the meetings in Athens and Lima this year and was very pleased to see the enthusiastic engagement by the attendees. This year, these meetings touched more than 1,800 international members, and our partners in these regions unite to work on endeavors worthy of ASH support. In 2019 for example, hematologists from societies throughout Latin America convened in Lima for a full day prior to HOA to advance ongoing work adapting the new ASH evidence-based guidelines on venous thromboembolism for Latin American hematologists. Adapting guidelines can be an effective strategy to bring trustworthy, context-appropriate recommendations to settings other than those for which they might have been originally intended, at a lower cost.

ASH efforts to support training of hematologists also have an international scope. The Clinical Research Training Institute (CRTI) and Translational Research Training in Hematology (TRTH) provide important education and mentorship for early-career hematologists worldwide. TRTH is co-sponsored by the European Hematology Association and is held in Europe. HOA in Latin America includes a pre-meeting workshop for trainees modeled on CRTI and we are exploring the possibility of expanding trainee opportunities at HOA in Asia-Pacific. One hundred fifty international trainees were supported by ASH this year to attend HOA. ASH has developed several unique training programs focusing on hematology-related needs in developing countries, including the Visitor Training Program (VTP) and the Latin American Training Program (LATP), which are designed to help build hematology capacity in low- and middle-income countries. The two programs provide funding for hematology-related health care professionals to receive up to 12 weeks of training on a specific topic or technique. We recently granted 18 awards to hematologists from Benin, Cambodia, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, and Romania. The LATP similarly granted eight awards to hematologists from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, and Peru.

The ASH International Outreach Initiative provides nearly 200 hospitals and universities in low- and middle-income countries with online access to free educational materials to help address needs in these countries with regard to research, practice, and training.

Awards are an important benefit to ASH members, and international members are eligible for many, including several travel awards given to presenters of high-scoring abstracts. In 2018, we introduced the ASH Global Research Award, designed to support future international scientific leaders, increase hematology capacity, and nurture global collaboration. Like the ASH Scholar Award, the Global Research Award supports hematologists between completion of their training and the establishment of their independent careers. The most recent awardees came from Brazil, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ghana, Italy, Japan, and Uganda.

Many of the outstanding programs described in this column are supported in part by the ASH Foundation. I encourage all ASH members to consider the Foundation in annual philanthropy planning and to note that there are opportunities to designate all or parts of donations to the Foundation for specific programs, including the Sickle Cell Disease Initiative Fund and the Global Programs Fund.

The ASH portfolio of international activities is broad and deep, and the contributions by our international members to our mission are substantial. As noted by author and New York Times op-ed commentator Thomas Friedman, the world is indeed flat. I am grateful to the leadership and the membership of ASH for mirroring this reality through their contributions. It is this commitment that ensures that our tagline is more than words on a page.

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