June 18, 2014 The view from Estonia
June 18, 2014 The view from Estonia by GVN’s President. Here in the homeland of Skype, Mobile ID, online voting and X-Road data exchanges, it did not take long for more than a hundred local and foreign virologists to merge seamlessly into the first GVN Scandinavian-Baltic Conference. The June 10-13 conference included scientists and physicians from Estonia, Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, the U.S., France, and Ukraine. This first Baltic Region conference was organized by Professor Andres Merits from Estonia’s University of Tartu—a GVN-affiliated Center of Excellence—and by Professor Anders Vahlne from Sweden’s Karolinksa Institute and the director of the Scandinavia-Baltic GVN Center of Excellence. In addition, the conference was supported by several other groups including, the European Union, the Harry and Reba Huge Foundation. Science and technology may have been the reason for holding a conference of virologists, but diplomacy also played a role in bringing together so many strangers in Tallinn. In this case, the U.S. Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), Chever Voltmer, hosted a welcome reception for the conferees. In her welcoming remarks, DCM Voltmer reminded us of the importance of GVN’s international work, particularly as infectious diseases and their vectors move invisibly across borders and through nations. She congratulated us for working to bring together so many regional experts, as well as for including a delegation from Ukraine. In thanking the DCM for her generosity in welcoming our group, I noted how important it is for scientists to know each other’s scientific work, as well as each other as people, recognizing that trust and understanding of one’s colleagues can be critical to progress, particularly during times of crisis and confusion. The US embassy’s reception helped pave the way for the substantive scientific exchanges that followed. The conference was held at the Laulasmaa Resort, 30 minutes outside of Tallinn in an idyllic setting on the chilly Baltic Sea. The formal part of the program was given over to presentations from senior and junior scientists on viral challenges facing the Baltic region: HIV, Chikungunya, Human Papilloma Virus, Hepatitis B and C, among them. Novel vaccine technologies, new approaches to drug therapies, and epidemiological programs were featured. What struck me as a great feature of the conference was the number of post-doctoral fellows and PhD students in the mix. Interactions between the scientific veterans and the class of future virology leaders were critical to the chemistry and success of the conference. “Transformative,” was how one PhD student put it to me, after noting this was the first scientific conference she had been able to attend. One could see the optimism for future work and the hope to be engaged for the long-term. Members of the Ukrainian delegation were warmly welcomed participants at this Baltic conference. A senior Ukrainian delegate said it was his wish that GVN could help reduce the distance between Ukrainian virologists and colleagues in the Baltics and Scandinavia. Clearly, there was great interest on the part of conference participants to collaborate with regional and global colleagues. We take note! As these virologists left to return to their labs and wards, the GVN will start to work on how to continue dialogue, create lasting regional collaborations, and support the many excellent ideas which surfaced during the conference, both scientifically and administratively. It is my hope that we will be able to convene again, and to do so having supported a number of activities in the interim, each aimed at bolstering science and improving career paths for our next generation of virologists.