TIBA AGM blog post

All the acronyms!!! TIBA stands for Tackling Infections to Benefit Africa. It is also the Swahili word for “to cure infection”. And AGM, well that’s a more common one, no need for explanations there. So, it was time for TIBA’s first annual general meeting. The venue was Durban, South Africa, one of the nine TIBA partner countries. The University of Kwazulu-Natal had been preparing for the meeting for some time. This was quite an undertaking with contributors coming from far afield. Project leaders, students, company representatives and members of the local community…the list of participants was large, vibrant and varied.

Our travel arrangements seemed to be reasonably straight forward: Edinburgh-London-Johannesburg-Durban. As we boarded our flight in Edinburgh our pilot informed us that he hoped to avoid the thunderstorms currently hanging over the UK by going around or up and over them! Cause for alarm?? The flight itself was relatively smooth but who could have foreseen our first problem as our plane arrived at its aircraft stand. The chap on airport duty had positioned the passenger boarding bridge in the wrong place! Having done this, he promptly finished his shift and went home….

Waiting in London

The solution lay in some good old-fashioned steps wheeled up against the rear door of the plane.

A quick scoot though the airport saw us arrive at our gate with time to spare. We all laughed as we walked past the stairs going up to first class…. sadly, no upgrade for us this time. And so, to the next hiccup…. Our captain apologised in advance for the delay caused by a faulty computer component. We must wait for an engineer to fix it. Two hours later we were on our way.

The flight was around 10 and a half hours and was followed by a sprint through Johannesburg airport to catch our final connection. Whilst standing in the queue to board my eye caught sight of someone’s T-shirt… “TIBA Botswana!” We had a good chat, it was a nice way to be introduced and proof that the TIBA merchandising was a good idea.

Looking over Durban

We were collected from the airport and driven for around half an hour to our hotel in Durban where we would reside, and the AGM would take place. The drive took us past fields and fields of sugar cane. It’s hard to get any real idea of the size of this crop but I’m guessing it is at least as tall as a man. Then we drove past the ocean. It was a windy day so the waves were looking pretty impressive with a few hardy surfers out catching the best the ocean could offer. Finally, we arrived at the hotel and checked in. This first thing that struck me from my room was the view! The window presented me with my first proper view of Durban.

Dinner was a relaxed affair that evening with most of our time spent spotting TIBA participants and saying “Hi” to far-travelled colleagues as the hotel filled up.

After breakfast the next morning there was a little time to scope out the venue. The hotel had been busy setting up the main ballroom with tables, chairs, audio visuals and lighting. The stage was being set for a great meeting.

During the morning we registered for the meeting and received our conference bags and badges. The bags had been made and embroidered locally, bringing some income and employment to the area. As everyone was arriving at the meeting reception we were greeted by a group of Zulu dancers. They sang and danced and gave us an enthralling welcome! Had it been a slightly more relaxed reception I probably would have joined in…. there is however, a time and a place!

AGM necklace

Zulu dancers

The day progressed with an introduction from Professor Moses Chimbari, which led onto the official opening by Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, South Africa’s first Health Ombudsman and former UKZN Vice-Chancellor and Principal, who stressed the importance of research “in Africa for Africa and for the world”. Collaboration, diversity and transdisciplinarity were strong threads throughout his speech. Professor Salim Abdool Karim, CAPRISA Director, followed with an account of the impact that high rates of HIV infection have on the young women of South Africa. Over the next two sessions progress reports were then delivered by each of the 9 TIBA partner countries: South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana, Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Sudan.

The evening of the first day culminated with a dinner where delegates were treated to delicious food and great entertainment.

Up early the next morning and at it with progress on TIBA’s work packages being presented on Day 2. This covered the “Making a Difference” projects along with “Tool kit projects”, “Technology Transfer and Training”, “Dissemination for Action” and “Emergency Response”.

An evening poster session allowed the post-graduate students to present their work, accompanied with drinks and delicious biltong (dried, spiced, cured meat). Some of this delicious meat came home with me in my luggage!

On the final day we heard about fellowships which would see students coming from the 9 TIBA countries to the UK in order to progress their studies and research. The progress of ethics requirements for TIBA was reported followed by a summing up and a vote of thanks. We managed a short tour around Durban on the last afternoon, visiting the beach, the University and a stroll around the harbour area in the evening.

Durban at night

A lengthy flight home on what could only be described as a vintage Boeing 747 saw us return to Edinburgh less than a week after we left. So much crammed into an eventful few days. However, our task as rapporteurs for the event meant our job was not yet done. A few emails back and forth between my fellow rapporteurs allowed us to complete our assignment and sign off from our duties.

AGM write up

Since our return there have been a fair few emails and Tweets congratulating TIBA on a very successful first AGM. The follow-up meeting falls to Ghana in just over a year’s time. I’m assured by my colleague and friend that it will be fantastic, Ghana after all is his home country…. Perhaps he may be a little biased?