The American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association (ASTDA) represents a very diverse membership, including basic scientists, researchers, clinicians, epidemiologists, public health officials, and disease intervention specialists. ASTDA lacks the staff and resources to serve the specific needs of its individual constituents, however, it should be well poised to identify and serve common goals. In the following, I’d like to discuss our progress and plans in 5 strategic areas: collaboration, communication and translation, rejuvenation, and member engagement.
Given our resource limitations, we should actively seek collaborations with organizations that share our mission to “control, prevent and ultimately eradicate sexually transmitted infections.” This past year, we formalized collaboration with the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) and the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD). Our membership recently approved changes to the ASTDA bylaws that created ex-officio seats on our Executive Committee for the President of ASHA and the Executive Director of NCSD. This collaboration has already resulted in a number of co-authored documents, including formal responses to requests from the United States Preventive Services Task Force for input on its genital herpes and syphilis research agendas.
We have also stepped up our activities as the regional representative of the International Union Against Sexually Transmitted Infections (IUSTI). We have formally addressed our relationship with IUSTI in the ASTDA bylaws and we have created a seat on the Executive Committee for a representative of the newly formed Canadian Branch of IUSTI that will function under the ASTDA umbrella. Also, membership to IUSTI will become integrated with ASTDA membership this year, with an opt-out clause for those members who do not wish to join IUSTI. This will cause a significant increase in overall IUSTI membership as well as the proportion of North-American IUSTI members, creating both opportunities and responsibilities. For one thing, we will need to step up our involvement with IUSTI functions. Thus, ASTDA will be officially represented at the Morocco IUSTI World Congress where I have been asked to organize a repeat of the successful “Surviving and Thriving” symposium we sponsored at the ISSTDR meeting in Brisbane this past September. The focus of the session will be on how to best support STI research and publications from Africa and other developing countries.
In terms of communication and translation, we are very fortunate with the new Editor of our journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Bill Miller. His first year at the helm has already resulted in a significant increase in submitted articles and a related increase in the overall quality of the journal. We have formed a Publications Committee to actively support the Editor, especially in the areas of translational research and program science, and assisting young investigators to submit their work to the journal.
Conferences are also an important means for communication and translation. Besides the aforementioned IUSTI World Congress, we have significantly increased our commitment to the National STD Prevention Conference, which will be held in Atlanta, September 20-23. ASTDA will both be co-chairing the overall conference as well as the Scientific Committee. In addition to our traditional Recognition Awards Luncheon, we will host sessions that will showcase our organization and our journal, and we are also planning a membership meeting. Finally, ASTDA has been asked to be a co-organizer of a CDC conference on HIV diagnostics this March in Atlanta.
Recognizing that ASTDA has a role to play in rejuvenating the STD workforce and fostering young investigators, it instituted the 2-year Developmental Awards in 2008. To date, there have been 12 recipients, and we are pleased to announce that we will continue the program for one, 2-year award this spring. We are also actively engaging with the newly created STD fellowship at the CDC-funded Regional STD Prevention Training Centers. As already mentioned, we have and will continue to sponsor sessions at conferences that are meant to facilitate the granting and publication process and foster the academic careers of young investigators. We also encourage them to become active participants in our Association. This spring, 7 seats of the ASTDA Executive Committee will be open for (re-) election and we will actively recruit junior faculty to be on the ballot.
Finally, something where I think we can improve: engagement of the ASTDA membership. Individually, ASTDA members have contributed their expertise to national and international scientific and programmatic committees and meetings for many years. However, ASTDA has not played much of a role in bringing its members together to develop consensus statements or position papers. Such a process could be particularly useful is areas where scientific evidence is weak, incomplete, or absent. Topics are varied: the role of rapid syphilis testing in clinical and outreach settings, the optimal treatment regimen for men with chronic or recurrent urethritis, the role of herpes serology in STD practice, optimal HIV (rapid) testing algorithms in STD clinics – just to name a few. In these areas, we typically rely on “expert opinion”, but there is no process by which expert opinion is generated or validated. At its annual meeting last January, the ASTDA Executive Committee felt that ASTDA should consider organizing brief meetings with a limited but diverse number of ASTDA experts to discuss high priority issues, resulting in position papers to be published in the STD journal. I am very curious what you – our members – think about this idea and what topics you would favor.
As my term as ASTDA president is winding down, there is a lot to do and you will be hearing from me before we meet at the STD Prevention Conference in September!
American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association