A belated happy new year to all! Despite the holidays, these have been busy times for ASTDA. In early December 2014, the Executive Committee (EC) had its annual in-person meeting. It was a very productive meeting, effectively mapping the future directions of the association. There was consensus that for ASTDA to be a more visible and effective organization, it needs to accomplish the following: better communication with its members and partners, enhancing support for the STD journal, and developing an advocacy role.
In terms of partnerships, over the years, ASTDA’s EC has had members that were also involved in sister organizations, including the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD), the International Union Against Sexually Transmitted Infections (IUSTI) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, these relationships were mostly coincidental and, with the exception of ASHA, never formalized. Yet to be more effective, ASTDA needs to be informed what colleagues in other organizations are doing and what their priorities are. Better still, it should be involved with setting a common agenda and identifying the role it is best suited to play in moving this agenda forward. Thus, the EC decided that it will submit a proposal to the ASTDA membership to amend its bylaws that will create voting ex-officio memberships for ASHA, NCSD, and IUSTI. There is a lot more to say about this and I will do so in a future blog.
This gets me to communication with our ASTDA membership. To the extent that, in the past, the association was mostly seen as the force behind the STD journal and the annual awards, perhaps much communication was not necessary. However, as we are trying to redefine the role of ASTDA in the changing STD environment, it is time to think about how to best establish open communication lines. I will certainly endeavor to submit regular updates through this blog, but will also communicate directly with ASTDA members when input is needed. Conversely, I hope that all members and also non-members would contact me with concerns and suggestions.
During the meeting in December, EC members also met with the new editor-in-chief of our journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Dr. Bill Miller. As much as we are grateful for all the years of service of the previous editor, Dr. Julius Schachter, new leadership brings new opportunities. At the meeting, Dr. Miller laid out some of his plans for the future and subsequently I interviewed him for STDPO – listen to his comments at this link. In short, he is truly committed to working with the ASTDA EC, and particularly with it publication committee to nurture relationships with young investigators and to also establish strong linkage with those working in STD programs, both in terms of selecting articles that are especially relevant for program and at the same time soliciting manuscripts from them. There are many program innovations that never see the light of publication, yet their dissemination would be of importance to others working in the field.
The third topic of discussion relates to advocacy and policy development – an area where, in my mind, ASTDA needs to find its voice. ASTDA has great resources. While the organization is financially in good shape, I am not talking about dollars. Rather, its major resource is its membership that represents the state of the science in STD: from the laboratory bench to diagnostics and from clinical care to prevention. We need to find a better way to harness this incredible resource in moving the field forward. Our experience with the issues around the naming of what is now the Distinguished Career Award, has demonstrated that an open forum format with the membership can be very effective and this could be one of several ways for interactive participation as we start looking into advocacy and policy statements and develop a mechanism by which we come to consensus.
Last week, ASTDA’s president-elect Dennis Fortenberry and I were invited for a “meet and greet” at the CDC Division of STD Prevention. It was a terrific event with plenary sessions and individual branch meetings. Many of the above topics were discussed and resonated well with our CDC colleagues. Among the suggestions we took home, there are two I want to mention here. They both relate to workforce development. First, though the STD clinical landscape is changing, there is a need to focus on quality improvement at publicly-funded STD clinics. CDC has started a collaborative process that will result in a guidelines document for quality STD clinical services. ASTDA is excited to be part of this process as it will assist us in identifying areas where we could prove useful in enhancing the STD clinical workforce. Second, and of more immediate relevance, is the fact that through the STD Prevention Training Centers, CDC is now requiring that each of the training centers have a medical fellow. In addition to their involvement with the training centers, the “curriculum” for these fellowships has not been determined. ASTDA, however, is very interested in supporting the PTCs in the scholarly development of the fellows and will look for ways to assist in the process.
Stay tuned and be in touch!
Kees Rietmeijer, MD, PhD
American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association