19 Nov 2016

Over 80 delegates attended the opening of the 15th INDEPTH Network Annual General Meeting at Speke Resort Munyonyo in Kampala, Uganda, from 16-18 November 2016.These included INDEPTH Member Centre Leaders or their representatives; Uganda-based HDSSs; INDEPTH partners and collaborators; funders and invited guests.

Opening the AGM, the Principal of the Makerere University College of Health Sciences, Prof. Charles Ibingira, acknowledged INDEPTH's contribution to science, policy and practice over the last 18 years and urged the AGM to come up with a formidable strategy for the Network for the next five years. A discussion on the new INDEPTH Strategic Plan (2017-2021) was one of the agenda items of the meeting.

Prof. Ibingira also noted the changing dynamics from infectious diseases into what he called ‘a Tsunami’ of Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in Low and Middle Income Countries where INDEPTH member centres operate, and challenged INDEPTH to give due attention to NCDs. Makerere University is the parent institution of the lead hosts of the AGM - the Iganga Mayuge HDSS.

Addressing the AGM, the INDEPTH Board Chair Prof. Marcel Tanner said the meeting offered an opportunity "to understand what we have done and profile why we are here....We are here in a process of mutual learning for change," he said.

He reminded the Member Centres of their role in generating policy relevant information that can change the condition of the people, insisting that the days of INDEPTH as a network of the “data hunters and gatherers” were long gone.

"We have to remain scientifically sound. Background of our work is collecting information but it is not the same today as it was when we started. We face new challenges for example migration due to social-political reasons,” he said, citing this as an example where INDEPTH can make policy relevant contribution.

Prof. Tanner stressed that INDEPTH strength was in sharing and comparing, and validation of approaches. He emphasised on syntheses and comparative analyses, in addition to the annual compilation of data. He also talked about the relevance of INDEPTH getting into the personalised health area, arguing that if INDEPTH did not include that in its new plans, the Network would also be contributing to widening the gap of inequalities which he said, has a public health ethical dimension.

The Board Chair's speech was followed by presentations from three HDSSs in Uganda, namely Iganga Mayuge, Rakai and Kyamulibwa before INDEPTH Network Executive Director Prof Osman Sankoh made the State of the Network Address.

Prof. Sankoh thanked the hosts and Centre Leaders who found time to attend the AGM despite other commitments. He expressed gratitude to funders, also acknowledging the presence of the representatives of Sida (from Stockholm and Ugandan office). The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency has provided strong support for INDEPTH for many years.

The INDEPTH Executive Director encouraged Member Centres to share their data, noting that there has not been any example of data misuse by people who download from the INDEPTH repository. "Now there is more confidence, we have 32 sites on INDEPTHStats, but we still need more."

His address covered a number of areas including membership issues; scientific research; capacity strengthening; Policy engagement, financial performance and key challenges. Prof Sankoh also informed the AGM on the progress of the initial phase of implementation of INDEPTH's new generation of population surveillance operations (CHESS) in Burkina Faso. In addition, he acknowledged other centres that were also implementing initiatives similar to CHESS.

The meeting approved the minutes of AGM 2015 held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They also approved the Executive Director's report for the year ended 31 December 2015, also received, discussed and approved the audited accounts of the financial year ended 31 December 2015, unaudited financial report 2016, the work plan for 2017 and the 2017 budget.

Other issues included update on the 2017 INDEPTH Scientific Conference (ISC 2017) - to which it was agreed that there will be no ISC in 2017 as previously planned, but an AGM that will be held in Dubai to be followed by the 2018 (20th Anniversary) ISC in Accra and an AGM 2019 in South Africa. Kolkata in India will host the 2010 ISC.

The new Strategic Plan 2017-2021 was also presented at the AGM. There was also a session on sustainability issues. This came on the background that some HDSS sites have recently suspended operations while others are reducing the frequency of their update rounds. This session discussed approaches to reducing HDSSs and INDEPTH operational costs in order to ensure sustainability of both the Network and its member centres. There were also sessions on future opportunities where Dr. Lucia D'Ambruoso from University of Aberdeen and Prof. Ernst Hafen from ETH Zürich made presentations.

Closing Ceremony

The Board Chair, Prof. Marcel Tanner thanked the Ugandan HDSSs for hosting a very successful AGM. He added that he was stepping down and elections for the new Board Chair would be held in March 2017, meanwhile Prof. Peter Byass would be the Interim Chair. On the results of the Board members elections conducted earlier, he announced that Prof. Nguyen Thi Kim Chuc and Dr. Walter Otieno had been re-elected to the Board. The voting was done by Centre Leaders and/or representatives of Centre Leaders.

The Board Chair also alluded to the proper status of the Accra Secretariat, which she said would now be referred to a Resource and Training Centre. On the Draft Strategic Plan, he said it would be circulated to Centre Leaders for their review and feedback before it is finalized.

Speaking on behalf of funders, the Representative of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), Dr. Maria-Teresa Bejaranos stressed that INDEPTH strength was in its being a network and that this “power of the collective” should come clearly in the strategic plan document. She said data gathered from individual sites has value locally and nationally but collectively as a network it has relevance internationally.

Dr. Bejaranos advised INDEPTH that the new Strategic plan should focus on what INDEPTH is good at and can do best. She expressed concern on Sida being the only current core funder saying support from additional funders was important for INDEPTH's sustainability and feasibility. The Sida official also challenged INDEPTH to find ways of managing growth of the Network to which she asked: “How big can an organisation become to be manageable?”. She concluded by urging member centres need to show enthusiasm on the Network.

The INDEPTH Executive Director, Prof. Osman Sankoh, called for greater collaboration between Ugandan HDSS sites. He challenged Uganda HDSSs to put their data together and make a comparison of trends, patterns in VA and other core indicators. In response to manageable growth he said: “INDEPTH strength is in diversity but will see how we manage growth". The ED thanked the outgoing Chair Prof Tanner and the hosts.