15th Scientific Meeting of CAPGAN Lusaka, Zambia 25th-27th September, 2017

The 15th conference of CAPGAN was held in Mulungushi International Conference Centre, Lusaka, over three warm, sunny days in September 2017. The conference was hosted by the Zambia Association for Paediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, a very young association with very similar interests to CAPGAN. The conference was attended by 180 registered delegates, including 35 speakers from Zambia, USA, UK, India, Kenya, South Africa, Norway, UAE, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Colombia and Malawi. Delegates were drawn from all of these countries, and Zimbabwe, Uganda and South Sudan in addition. Approximately half of the delegates were from Zambia , including paediatricians in public and private practice, nurses, nutritionists and dieticians.

The conference was opened by Dr Violet Kayamba, President of ZAGAN, who welcomed the CAPGAN executive as guests to Zambia. Dr Barbara Golden welcomed all the speakers and delegates on behalf of CAPGAN. Later on the conference was officially opened by the Minister of Health, Dr Chitalu Chilufya MP.

The programme on Monday 25th September was focused on malnutrition and infection (including HIV), and included oral presentations of seven free papers on malnutrition-related topics. Over the lunch break delegates were invited to view 13 poster presentations. The last session of the day was entitled “current trends in paediatric gastroenterology” and included differential diagnosis of IBD and IBS, oesophageal disease, and advances in endoscopy. The full programme is attached as an Appendix. The day closed with the Speakers’ Dinner in the 9th floor restaurant of the nearby Protea Tower hotel.

Tuesday’s programme began with a session on the microbiome, followed by a session on neglected paediatric disorders, including surgical problems. The afternoon was focused on paediatric liver disease, and included four free papers (two on liver disease, one on intestinal infection and one on paediatric surgery). The day closed with a presentation on advocacy, chaired by the former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Women’s and Children’s Health. It was followed by a general meeting of CAPGAN members, at which several prizes were announced:

  • Golden Prize: winner ___________
  • Sandhu Prize: winner ___________
  • Mohan Prizes: winner ___________
  • Sullivan Prize: winner ___________

The third day was a special symposium on Environmental Enteric Dysfunction (EED), sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The purpose of this session was to introduce this subject of emerging importance to a wider audience of paediatricians. The symposium covered the meaning of EED and its measurement, as well as mechanisms and significance. The conference was closed by Professor Paul Kelly at the end of the third day.

What are the lessons to be learned? Although no formal feedback was requested (probably an oversight in retrospect), informal feedback was very positive indeed; both at the conference and in emails afterwards there was an overwhelmingly positive feeling that the conference had been a success. The selection of speakers was felt to have been good, and the quality of presentations was indeed very high indeed. The venue was good, the food was enjoyable, and the audiovisual arrangements worked well. Inexplicably, the wifi was not working for the first two days of the conference, but the author of this report observed that this had a positive effect on the attention delegates paid to the presentations! Not every aspect of the wired-up world is positive! However, there are two aspects of the conference which were disappointing:

1. Not enough international delegates. CAPGAN has hundreds of members, but only a handful of members from outside Zambia actually came. Undoubtedly distance and expense contributed to this, but given the quality of the presentations this is a pity. There were no delegates from West Africa or South East Asia. Without any question this conference would have been a financial disaster without the grant from the Gates Foundation which was designed to allow us to invite speakers for the special symposium but which also permitted other speakers to be invited to the main conference.

2. Commercial sponsorship was low. This was not unexpected given that the Zambian health care marketplace is relatively small, but the sponsorship was even less than anticipated. Major sponsorship was forthcoming from Pentax (endoscopy) and MissionPharma (nutritional support).

Overall, the conference was a success. With significantly greater attendance from outside the region, it would have been even better. It is not obvious how this could be achieved, but perhaps the CAPGAN executive (and the local committee) should start to publicise the conference earlier and more strenuously in future. It is important not to shy away from more distant locations in the Commonwealth (i.e. distant from where the majority of members live), as we are very much in need of developing this sub-specialty across the globe. The organising committee in Zambia would like to express our deep gratitude to the CAPGAN executive for entrusting us with the organisation of this prestigious conference, which has undoubtedly had a good impact on paediatric gastroenterology in Africa. More needs to be done.

Paul Kelly
18 th October, 2017