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Friday, 17 August 2018 08:01

Making the most of posters

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AIDS2018 contd...

“It was a really great experience, it was a two-way dialogue,” recalls Mzantsi Wakho’s Lesley Gittings about her poster presentation at AIDS2018. She says she almost preferred it to the experience of delivering oral presentations. The poster, which was on adolescent adherence to antiretroviral therapy, was a joint production with Paediatric Adolescent Treatment Africa (PATA), and during the lunch-time session, PATA programme people from a CBO in Zambia, as well as a PATA donor, came by to discuss the findings. The poster provided the space for a much wider group discussion. “Instead of just sitting up at the front and speaking, there was actually a chance for me to also ask questions and engage with people who are experts on the topic in a different way, not from an academic perspective but from a programmatic and community perspective,” says Gittings. So. Although “poster disappointment” is inevitable. (As described by my colleague Josee Koch in her blog last week), there are ways of making the most of the opportunity.

IMG 1945Another EHPSA-funded researcher, Abigail Solomons, made careful preparations for her lunchtime poster session on the research protocol for Together Tomorrow. (This was the first study in Africa to look at minority stress, male-male couples and HIV). In advance of the conference she provided a written abstract and five-slide powerpoint presentation to support the printed poster*. Key Namibian stakeholders were invited to visit her during the lunchtime session. Chairs were even provided! A Namibian Whatsapp page helped in drawing a crowd and a lively discussion ensued with representatives from Namibian ministries and MSM NGOs as well as international donors. “A big area of interest for the ministry is this whole issue of couples testing,” says Solomons “That has been the advocacy angle for so many years, but with the study we saw that it’s not working – people don’t want to test together.” The study showed high levels of mistrust and an unwillingness among MSM to share HIV test results with partners.

So, if you work at it, presenting a poster at an international conference can be a valuable experience.

However. I do still wonder if conference organisers could not make more of the posters. Every time I have attended an international AIDS conference, I have found a real wealth of new information, research findings and contacts in the poster hall. But although the posters are organised by track - and vaguely by theme - you have to work really hard to find the ones you are interested in. Many posters provide evidence that complements oral presentations – but they are seldom integrated into the main conference programme. And although the posters are usually available online after the event, there is seldom any attention given to them during the conference - no headline news, no rapporteur summaries. Poster authors also have a role to play here – they are supposed to be physically present next to their posters during lunchtime, but they are frequently absent.

In conclusion, I suggest that sometimes the choice of posters seems quite random. For example, the EHPSA-funded TRANSFORM study, which provides evidence to strengthen HIV services for men who have sex with men in South Africa and Kenya, had seven posters at AIDS2018. These collectively presented all the early findings of their research. One wonders why they weren’t granted an oral presentation instead.

You can peruse the 17 posters by EHPSA-funded researchers at your leisure at: http://www.ehpsa.org/conferences/ias2018/posters.

*Read the Together Tomorrow abstract and poster at : http://programme.aids2018.org/Abstract/Abstract/11379

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