By Manny Lewis
Communications Editor, MACEPA
Every year, in advance of the massive poster sessions at its annual meeting, the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) produces a set of instructions that state: “A poster is a visual presentation of your research or clinical project. Use schematic diagrams, graphs, tables, and other strategies to direct the visual attention of the viewer, rather than explaining it using text as you would in a journal article.”
And every year those instructions are completely ignored.
The poster sessions at ASTMH are an exercise in excess: an excess of posters (this year, 1,900 were displayed over the course of three days), an excess of people (seeking a break from the relentless symposium schedule and wooed by free sack lunches, the poster halls were flooded by many of the conference’s 4,300 attendees), and an excess of content—usually in the form of small print jammed onto every inch of poster space.
But a select few sought to meet the low standard of being somewhat visually appealing and not over-reliant on text. Here are five posters that stood out at the recently concluded ASTMH annual meeting.
In order to diagnose someone with malaria, the majority of diagnostic tests in Africa look for the presence of the HRP2 protein in the patient’s blood sample. But there is growing concern about malaria parasites that avoid detection due to a genetic mutation that eliminates production of the protein. This poster presented the results of a University of North Carolina study in the Democratic Republic of Congo that sought to investigate the prevalence and causes of the protein’s deletion.
While most posters are inelegantly crammed with exposition, this one effectively uses space and efficiently uses text. Upon first glance, the eyes are immediately drawn to the posters’ figures, and, helpfully, the bold headings above each figure serve as the authors’ interpretation of the data. One could get the gist of the poster simply by reading its title, looking at the figures, and reading the conclusion. The background and methods sections provide context in the form of easy-to-digest bullet points.
My only suggestion: since we’re dealing with mutation, next time, prominently place the word “mutant” in the title to draw the attention of dumb guys like me.
— Speak Up Africa (@SpeakUpAfrica1) November 15, 2016
Considering its success and reach (58,290 Facebook likes and counting), it should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Speak Up Africa that its poster effectively conveyed the mission of the Dakar-based communications and advocacy organization and its “Zero Malaria Starts With Me” campaign1.
“I believe the campaign has been successful because we strive to maintain a connection between what may seem like an abstract public health issue to people’s daily lives and concerns” said Speak Up Africa’s Founder and President Yacine Djibo. “We all have the power to be change agents, and with that comes a responsibility to stay informed and use the available tools such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets and getting the right treatment in a timely manner. That’s exactly what ‘Zero Malaria Starts with Me’ aims to do in providing a user-friendly platform for citizens to get involved in malaria elimination.”
This poster is one example of Speak Up Africa’s many effective communications materials that help spur such involvement. And while the poster didn’t have to shoulder the burden of presenting scientific data, it used the space allotted to great effect with a nice mix of maps, images, and colors. It is further proof that the organization knows what it’s doing when it comes to messaging.
I was originally going to highlight this poster strictly out of sympathy as it had the misfortune of being positioned at the far corner of the poster hall where it faced a wall and relatively few eyeballs.
But it turns out there’s far more reason to recommend it than that sob story.
With minimal fuss and plenty of compelling visuals, the poster provides an overview of a study in Zambia that used a census to find out where people lived and how far they were willing to travel in order to get to a health facility. The census results informed equations which then fed a model that showed a probability of treatment-seeking. The data came from a 2012–2013 mass-test-and-treat study, and the ultimate goal of the work will be to map cases from DHIS2 to the community level.
The poster is clean, doesn’t burden the reader with text, and uses a nice variety of figure styles. Also, the intro was refreshingly simple—broken down into a “problem” and a “task”—and any additional context the reader might want could be found in the abstract.
This poster presented the results of a study that examined the potential spread of malaria by blood donors from endemic and non-endemic areas of Brazil.
The study looked for specific malaria markers and the prevalence of Plasmodium infection in blood donors approved for donation by local screening methods. It was prompted by concerns of asymptomatic donors transmitting the infection and the fact that, while donors from malaria-endemic areas are carefully screened for malaria, the standards for malaria screening in non-endemic areas are comparatively lax, resulting in five transfusion cases in the last ten years in non-endemic areas. The study shows methods to identify the asymptomatic blood donors that would fit blood bank screening for malaria.
The poster makes this list because of its reader-friendly two-column layout, its good use of visuals, and because, as an American, I suspect I am still trying to make amends with Brazil for sending Ryan Lochte over there.
After being bombarded with charts and graphs all week at ASTMH, it doesn’t get much more refreshing than seeing an adorable hamster on a poster. The enthusiasm goes down a few notches when you realize the hamster was deliberately infected with soil-transmitted helminth (STH), but beggars can’t be choosers. The study sought to observe the effect of STH on the memory formation and cognitive function of hamsters in order to better understand STH’s cognitive effect on children.
Sure, there’s a lot of text on this poster, but it’s not overly technical and it effectively and coherently explains the logistics and objectives of each separate task the hamsters performed. Plus, each explanation is accompanied by helpful images.
It’s a well-made presentation of an interesting experiment, although I was already prone to confusing hamsters with guinea pigs and this poster did nothing to change that—especially since hamsters were used as the “guinea pigs” of this study.