Go Global, But Maintain Focus

Stand Your Ground Associations Now November-December 2017 Issue By: Emily Bratcher

Carrying out a global mission requires a niche focus for the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene to keep resources aligned with activities.

For a small-staff association, the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene has a big mission: “Reducing the worldwide burden of tropical infectious diseases and improving global health.”

How to tackle such a daunting goal? “We stick to our niche,” says ASTMH Executive Director Karen Goraleski. “We don’t reach beyond our vision.” As a research-based society with members who work as scientists and researchers at the National Institutes of Health and other agencies and institutions, ASTMH pursues its vision by helping members share their research through two main vehicles: its journal and its annual international meeting.

“ASTMH offers a global stage where expert scientists and clinicians come together to share the latest research data but also the most pressing research questions that need answers,” Goraleski says. “Our goal is the end of tropical infectious disease. In other words, we want to put ourselves out of business.”

The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, which ASTMH owns and manages, has about 4,000 subscribers and publishes authors that span the globe. In 2015, Goraleski says, 33 percent of authors published in the journal were from Asia, 23 percent were from Europe, 20 percent from Africa, 11 percent from South America, 8 percent from North America, and 2 percent from Oceania.

Articles cover a wide range of topics. This year alone, the journal has included pieces on controlling human rabies in Haiti, a test for rotavirus on the Kenya-Somalia border, and a soil-transmitted foot disease.

Plenty of knowledge-sharing also happens at ASTMH’s annual meeting, which sees about 4,000 attendees from all around the world. The event requires a lot of heavy lifting on behalf of staff, who manage 13 different concurrent symposia across the five-day conference. But the effort pays off: Results of a 2015 attendee survey came back with a resounding chorus of “don’t fix what ain’t broke,” Goraleski says.

A disciplined focus on the scope of ASTMH’s mission keeps resources aligned with its activities. That means leaving to others work that the organization is ill-equipped to do. For example, while there's a lack of scientific literacy across the spectrum, ASTHM isn't trying to launch an education campaign in high schools. “In spite of the fact that education is a problem, we just can’t go there because it’s beyond our ability,” Goraleski says.

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Stand Your Ground."]

Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a former associate editor at Associations Now.