Roger Detels

Memories of the IEA Presidency

In summer 1984, I too received a phone call from Professor Estlin Waters asking if I would consider being treasurer of the IEA. Although I did not know Professor Waters personally I had no hesitation in accepting immediately. I had been a member of the IEA since the late 1960s and had not missed a meeting since my first meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for which I received a travel grant. Fortunately, my predecessor, Paul Storey, had done an excellent job of obtaining the services on an accountant and in procuring extramural support from the Rockefeller Foundation and other organizations.

Serving on the Executive Committee with Johannes Mosbech, Michael Garraway, and Claude Rumeau-Roquette was a pleasant experience. Although all of us had strong and often differing ideas, we were committed to enhancement of the goals of the IEA. Thus our meetings were boisterous, but, I would like to think, productive.

In 1987 I was elected to a second term as treasurer, with Walter Holland serving as the President, Arpo Aromaa serving as Secretary, and Johannes continuing as past president. Serving on the new executive committee was at least as boisterous and enjoyable as during my first term. As the money man, I was, as Walter had indicated in his memoirs, responsible and concerned for the maintenance of a appropriate supply of Danish beer for the former president at meetings of the executive committee.

As Walter was concerned with the interactions of the association with the World Health Organization, I became concerned that we were losing visibility because of competition from the International Clinical Epidemiology Network (INCLEN) which was generously supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) which was supported by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control. The INCLEN was committed to clinical epidemiology, which they felt should be placed in schools of medicine exclusively, and the FETP was committed to field epidemiology on the model of the Epidemiologic Intelligence Service of the U.S. C.D.C. The issue came to a head in 1987 when all three organizations were planning separate meetings in Thailand within one month of each other, in January-February 1998. I asked the representatives of all three organizations to meet with me to discuss holding one joint meeting. They agreed and Dr. Prayura agreed to be the key organizer. The meeting was held in Pattaya and was very successful, thanks in large part to Dr. Prayura and his assistant, Dr. Chanpen. Since then, joint meetings of the INCLEN, FETP and IEA have been held in Indonesia, Zimbabwe (twice), China, Mexico and Malaysia.

The second issue which concerned me during my second term as treasurer was organizing the Tenth International Scientific Meeting, which I had agreed to host when Thailand defaulted. Thanks to the generous commitment of my colleagues at UCLA, to Mrs. Lester Breslow, the operational manager for the meeting (and the wife of one of the original founders of the IEA), and particularly to the students in the Epidemiology Program at UCLA, the meeting was a success and, to my relief, actually broke even!

A third issue which concerned me was increasing the representation of the IEA in countries outside the “British/European colonial axis”. During Walter’s presidency we had very successful meetings in Japan and China, both of which served as foci for the formal establishment of the Japanese and Chinese Epidemiological Associations, and in Zimbabwe. Also during the period the Philippine Epidemiological Association was formed and I was asked to make the inaugural address.

A fourth issue which concerned me was the election of the officers. In the past, the pattern had been for the council to elect the officers and to receive the approval of the membership at the meeting. In 1990 we had at least two candidates for every office. Thus, I found myself standing for president against a very worthy opponent, Stephen Leeder. I won, but as a compensation prize (?) the membership elected to have the 1993 International Scientific meeting in Sydney, Australia. Steve became the organizer.

Serving on the Executive Committee, in addition to myself, were Arpo Aromaa as secretary, Hiroshi Yanagawa from Japan as Treasurer, and Walter Holland as past president. Although I now felt the weight of considerably more responsibility, the executive committee was again very compatible, despite differences in philosophy and approaches, and very supportive of me.

I tried to follow in Walter’s footsteps by attempting to expand the contributions of the IEA to the World Health Organization. As part of that effort, I met with a Director-General, Dr. Hiroshi Nakajima, alone for one hour in borrowed shoes (not Walter’s). Mine had given out in the snow the previous evening. Although Dr. Nakajima was supportive of epidemiology as a base discipline for the work of the World Health Organization, he appeared, unfortunately, to be much more concerned about the stature of Japan in the discipline. Although the meeting accomplished little in terms of tangible outcomes, Dr. Nakajima remained supportive of the IEA, although not expanding its role in the WHO.

The Executive Committee decided that voting for regional councillors should be limited to the members from that region and suggested this for the 1993 meeting in Sydney. Although the idea was good, some regions had only three or four members attending the meeting in Australia and actually caucused among themselves about who would be the councillor for the region. The Executive Committee further felt that the officers of the IEA should include a position as president-elect to assure that the incoming president was familiar with the responsibilities of the presidency. At the same time, the membership at Sydney meeting raised the issue of having the entire membership vote for the councillors and officers. The Council and the membership voted in favour of the President-elect position and a mailed ballot, but that required amending the constitution. The issue of amending the constitution was referred to the next executive committee under the leadership of Professor Kunio Aoki from Japan as the new president, elected at the Sydney meeting.

A pleasant offshoot of the Sydney meeting was the formation of the “Holland Sisters”, including the wives of the officers; Mimi, my wife, Fiona Holland, Ula Aromaa and Tomi Yanagawa. The four were inseparable in investigating Sydney and environs and received their names from one of the tour operators.

The new Executive Committee also included Professor Heizo Tanaka from Japan as Treasurer, Professor Norman Noah from the United Kingdom as Secretary, President Rodolfo Saracci from Italy as president-elect, and myself as former president.

As I write this, I have served on the Executive Committee of the IEA for twelve years. It has been an exciting, rewarding experience. I have served with some outstanding epidemiologists who were committed to promoting epidemiology internationally, have made many lasting friendships, and have established international collaborative research and training programs with individuals I met through the IEA. The IEA has given me so much that it is difficult to imagine the coming years not serving on the Executive Committee. Nonetheless, I will look for every opportunity to support the IEA in the future as a member.