The annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD 2017) attracted more than 18,000 visitors; in spite of the press of people and stricter security measures, organizers were totally relaxed during the conference, following the example of Professor Luiz Gardete-Correia.
he thermometer registered 28°C in Lisbon, no cooling wind in the air. The sun was unusually hot for mid-September, and accordingly the air-conditioned function rooms were very appealing to the around 18,000 visitors at the annual assembly of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD 2017).
There aren't that many event facilities in Europe with that kind of capacity. At the fairgrounds of Feira International de Lisboa (FIL) and neighboring MEO Arena, handling crowds of this magnitude isn't a problem. The association of diabetes researchers appreciated that and accordingly on September 13 and 14, 2017 staged its annual conference at Portugal's capital for the third time after 1989 and 2011. Something immediately noticeable is that professional confrontation with diabetes and dietary nourishment appears to have an influence on delegates: there are remarkably many thin and athletic-type persons to be seen, almost like at a fitness trade show. Around noontime, the delegates left their air-conditioned rooms to make sure they got one of the lunch-bags filled exclusively with healthy products.
Professor Luiz Gardete- Correia is Chairman of the Local Organising Committee of EASD2017. PHOTO: EASD
The outward appearance of Professor Luiz Gardete- Correia didn't immediately fit this scene. At first glance, the slightly stocky professor looked a little like everybody's favorite uncle – good-natured, unhurried, and at one with himself. He wasn't at all to be perturbed by the commotion at the gate to the fairground's Hall 1; many of the delegates greeted him or shouted out to him – Gardete-Correia smiled politely, responded with admirable composure. Alexandra Baltazar, manager of the Lisboa Convention Bureau, affectionately called him "Rockstar of the Conference" – and was right in doing so. Professor Gardete-Correia is an eminent authority in the field of diabetes research. He is a vice president of the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) and between 2008 and 2017 held office as president of the Associacao Protectora dos Diabeticos de Portugal (APDP), which in 2009 for its formation of capacities and the advancement of diabetes awareness programs and treatment was chosen by IDF to be the first observation center. These IDF-centers are concerned with promoting initiatives aimed at developing capacities at a regional level, in order to fight the diabetes epidemic by way of cooperative partnerships with other centers for chronic diseases. Moreover, he was president of the Portuguese Society of Diabetology and coordinator of the first Portuguese diabetes prevalence study – PREVADIAB and is acting chairman of the local organizing committee for the EASD 2017.
The annual assembly of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes registers 18,000 visitors. PHOTO: EASD
Alexandra Baltazar is certain that Correia's network had also been instrumental is winning the bid for the conference several times for Lisbon; she characterized their relationship as "outstanding". "Our board has a very good relationship to Lisbon and the reps of the diverse institutions important to us", Gardete- Correia confirmed. "For example, the convention bureau set up contact to the local DMC Top Atlantico and the PCO Interplan." Their support was absolutely amazing: "For an event of this size, hotel rooms must be booked four years in advance. Plans need to be made for logistics, transport … we must be able to rely entirely on professionals in these domains. And we know we can do just that, which is why we are here again", Gardete-Correia, who lives in Lisbon, confirmed with a smile. So to speak, a congress ambassador.
It was astonishing that he was able to display such a relaxed attitude during the conference, because the circumstances were certainly not relaxed. "Security is a major issue this year", he confirmed, referring to terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Paris. "We were required to significantly reinforce security personnel; police outside the complex and extensive security perimeters have become standard features, requirements have changed." In passing by, he pointed to an armed police officer. "You know, these are pictures I don't like at all, but I guess we have to learn to live with them", he said shrugging his shoulders, and continued walking to the restaurant, where he had lunch.
A CITY IN TRANSFORMATION
The meeting destination Lisbon is on the upswing. “The Expo 1998 was something of a kick-start”, said Ana Mendes, Sales Representative of the Lisboa Convention Bureau (CVB). “And we've been consistently progressing as meeting destination since then.” The fact that Portugal's capital was less affected by the euro crisis than the rest of the country is based on that region's economic strength, according to Mendes. As host of the annual Web Summit (a startup convention with more than 30,000 visitors), the city is also in the focus of many young and agile businesses, which encourage the startup scene and consequently also growth in a variety of industries, said Alexandra Baltazar, GM of the
CVB. Things are looking up in Portugal. The general set-up has been consistently improved: “The public transport system has been considerably expanded in the past years, and we've invested intensively into our meeting infrastructure.” She presented several new venues, such as the Convento do Beato dating from 1580. The former monastery has been renovated over the past years; its largest hall has a maximum capacity of 1,500 persons. This venue was mostly recently used for a TV panel discussion featuring the candidates of the mayoral elections this year. Then there's the Pavilhão Carlos Lopes, Portugal's original pavilion at the Expo 1922 in Rio, Brazil. The building was shipped back to Lisbon in 1929, it was re-erected (including the wall tiles!) and since then has been used for diverse purposes. The structure was extensively renovated in 2015 and has been open for events since 2017. The Sud Lisboa directly on the banks of the Tejo River has a different but no less exciting history. Many years one of the city's most happening nightclubs, the Sud today is a very exclusive event venue with pool, roof terrace and restaurant. The 1,000-sqm large room on the ground floor has a drive-in ramp for motor vehicles, something customers in the automotive industry can appreciate. The Lisboa CVB is on-hand to set up contacts to the city's venues and as well as local PCOs and DMCs. CHRISTIAN FUNK
At first glance, it might appear astonishing that so many delegates attended this conference: in 2016, when the conference was staged in Munich, there were 15,000 delegates, and now this enormous jump to 18,000. But a look at current figures will explain the significant increase: diabetes is proliferating all over the world. The number of affected persons has been rising over the past decades – in Germany alone, there are currently more than six million diabetics, and counting. The World Health Organization WHO estimates that diabetes by 2030 will rank among the seven most frequent causes of death unless effective countermeasures are taken. The more important it is therefore to invest in research, effective prevention and treatment. That's exactly what this conference was centered on: presentation of studies, poster sessions, symposia and more than 1,000 lectures ranging from "Metabolism rocks around the clock" all the way to "Diabetes, obesity, their treatment and cancer risk: smoke or fire?"
When Prof. Gardete-Correia arrived at the restaurant, he appeared to be in his element. When asked about the reasons for so strongly advocating Lisbon as conference venue, he almost passionately emphasized the event's particular atmosphere and inadvertently strayed from technical matters to political issues: "In particular in our times so strongly characterized by difficulties and insecurity, it is essential to engage in open communication on an international level such as we are experiencing here, to learn about new findings and other perspectives from a different point of view. Regardless if we are discussing diabetes, the European Union or the refugee crisis." Gardete-Correia is both cosmopolitan and amicable, and he sees exactly these characteristics reflected in Lisbon. "Numerous cities make bids for hosting events of this kind, but only a small number of these actually have this degree of openness. You know, we have a very long tradition of tolerance in Portugal and - even though this may sound a bit commonplace - we are a friendly and above all openminded people"; he left no doubts about the formula for success for Lisbon – absolutely his favorite meeting destination. He hadn't even finished his lunch when his mobile rang: a local TV station was waiting for an interview. But before he left the restaurant, he ordered a digestif. It certainly takes more than a tight schedule to throw this man off the track. CHRISTIAN FUNK