01 November 2016
The 3rd Europe Africa Regional Conference was held on the 7-9th October in the beautiful city of Brussels.The city where crucial decisions about European policy are made on a daily basis seemed an appropriate setting for the meeting of CoMO members that work tirelessly to advocate for meningitis awareness and increased access to vaccinations.
Our conference began on the Friday evening with a welcome reception at the Aloft Schumann hotel, where President Chris Head welcomed all and introduced the four newest members to the region – No Foot No Stress of the Czech Republic, Asociación Española contra la Meningitis of Spain, Group B Strep Support of the UK and new CoMO Friend, Mr Mehmet Gençel of Turkey.
Saturday began with an introduction from Chris and a reminder of why we had all come together- to support each other in helping those affected by meningitis and providing information as a globally united front. Chris gave an update on how far we have come- expanding our membership and influence as well as embarking on new and exciting partnerships! He reflected on the past year in Europe and Africa and the many changes that had taken place since the last regional conference. He thanked everyone for their hard work and continued commitment to the cause of making meningitis history. The first session ended with introductions from CoMO members who reminded us of the importance of working together and the need for our work through their moving personal stories.
Daphne Holt, Vice President of CoMO, provided an update on our involvement in the Life Course Immunisation initiative, a project that has really taken off in the past year, resulting in numerous meetings and plans in the pipeline. More on the progress of this initiative will be shared in due course.
Our next speaker was Rob Dawson, Head of Advocacy and Communications, MRF. Rob introduced CoMO members to an exciting new MRF project to create an action plan for meningitis up to 2030, starting with a meeting of key players in the global fight against meningitis that will take place in the UK in early 2017.
Our final presentation of the morning was led by Elena Moya, regional coordinator for the Europe Africa region. World Meningitis Day 2016 was a resounding success, with a particularly strong social media campaign. Elena gave a brief summary of our learnings and discussed plans for 2017 with members, who provided some great ideas for future strategies, more to come on that very soon!
Fundraising is a key topic for all of our members. Sam Rosoman of CoMO provided an informative presentation on behalf of fundraising consultant, Jo Byron. The fundamental branches of fundraising strategies and a compelling case for support were the main topics for discussion and prompted discussion from members about ways they might raise money together. We also heard from Siobhan Carroll, founder of ACT for meningitis in Ireland about how they have successfully raised funds for their campaigns and their latest venture- Aoibhe’s House.
To finish our second day of conference, Shirley Gieron, Head of Helpline at MRF, ran a workshop about the many meanings of loss, a topic very close to the hearts of all of our members. Shirley explained how MRF helps people who have been bereaved or have had to cope with the sometimes life-changing after-effects of meningitis. We also heard about how another one of our members- Association Petit Ange, provides both financial and emotional support to its own members who are suffering as a result of the disease.
In the evening, we celebrated another gathering of Europe Africa CoMO representatives with a meal at L'Esprit de Sel Brasserie. While we all enjoyed the wonderful food, it was the company of like-minded individuals from our ‘CoMO family’ that really made the night a success. An opportunity to speak at length to others in similar positions away from the conference room.
Our final day got off to a great start with an update on the latest in meningitis research in Europe and Africa from CoMO Scientific Advisory Group (CSAG) members, Professor James Stuart and Professor Catherine Weil-Olivier. Catherine talked about the need for more information on the impact of the Meningitis B vaccine on carriage of the bacteria and also the increasingly important topic of microbial resistance, particularly with regard to pneumococcal infections. James provided an insight into the different types of meningitis bacteria prevalent across Africa and how there has been a marked increase in certain strains more recently. The session was rounded off nicely by Elena Moya in her capacity as Vice-President of the Asociación Española contra la Meningitis. Elena explained how her organisation has been working closely with New Born Solutions (NBS) to spread the word about NBS’ revolutionary device, Neosonics, the first non-invasive medical device to diagnose meningitis in children.
To round off the conference, our final session covered another key topic for our members- the media! Madeleine Breckon, Director of Vaccines Product Communications, encouraged us to consider the different types of media at our fingertips and the questions we should be asking ourselves before embarking on any key media campaign. A case study was presented by Simone Feier-Leist on behalf of Deidre Fredericks, Founder of Meningitis Association of South Africa, which clearly demonstrated the use of some of these strategies successfully last year during her World Meningitis Day campaign.
After a jam-packed and inspiring conference, proceedings were drawn to a close by Chris Head. He left us with a poignant and especially fitting quote:
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
- Margaret Mead, American Cultural Anthropologist
Sam is General Manager at CoMO. She has a background in scientific communications and marketing and working with volunteers in the charity sector.