PHA Europe has run an annual conference for many years in a row. We usually meet in a hotel by the beach just south of Barcelona. We call it APHEC (Annual PH European Conference). The participants are leaders of the European national associations.
They are invited to bring an extra person – often a translator, if English is a challenge for the national presidents.
The conference has always been a source of inspiration and opportunity for the participants to bond. We often use the term «our PH family», because our meetings have united us and made us a closely connected PH community, where no country borders exists. In this type of atmosphere, sharing and supporting each other comes natural. So our APHECs are very important to us.
Due to the pandemic, it was impossible for us to meet in Barcelona in 2020. It unfortunately also prove impossible to meet in 2021. So by the end of the year, we understood that we needed to implement an alternative solution like in 2020. So we contacted a Dutch company, who specializes in virtual events. They had a strong graphic department, and helped us recreate our Barcelona hotel. The two story building, with alleys on both sides, was easily recognizable to all with the pool in the front and the beach in the back of the hotel.
The participants entered the hotel through the virtual lobby. Here they got their badge and were greeted by one of the staff members. In addition, a welcome address from our president was played at the tv screen behind the desk counter. From the reception, one could go to any of the other areas in the hotel.
During our face-to-face meetings, the national associations often bring brochures and other materials to the conference room. Here it is all displayed and representatives from other associations can get inspiration and exchange samples with each other.
We wanted to create something similar in our virtual conference center and made an exhibition area, where all national associations were given a booth. Here they could write a description about their association, upload videos and documents that could be downloaded by all participants.
We also created a second exhibition hall. Here pharmaceutical companies, that we collaborate with, had a booth each. Likewise the speakers of the conference also had a booth, where the participants could read their micro biography.
The social aspect of the APHEC is very important and we tried to recreate the nice social atmosphere by creating a meeting area by the pool. Here participants could chat with other online participants by clicking on their icons. In addition, they could run video meetings with each other one to one or even group meetings.
One important part of our APHEC is the presentations. We often attract top of the line PH specialists to speak for us, and our virtual APHEC was no exception. We prerecorded their presentation and made it available for our participants in the presentation room. The participants could watch them when it suited them, and they would write down questions they wanted to ask the presenters. The participants had obviously watched the presentations carefully, because they submitted a total of 289 questions! We set aside two days where each of the eleven presenters would participate in an hour long Q&A (Questions & Answers) session. A PHA Europe staff member was the moderator and asked the questions that were previously sent to him by the participants. The video session was streamed live to the theater room in the virtual conference area and the participants could ask additional questions to the presenter via the moderator. A large portion of the PHA Europe’s national associations took part in the very interesting Q&A sessions and seemed to enjoy the state of the art virtual setup.
We covered a lot of interesting topics during the presentations. In addition to European presenters, three professors from USA ran presentations for us. The Rahaghi brothers, ran presentations about CTEPH and PH treatment in the US. And Professor Preston ran an interesting presentation about exercise, sex and contraception. Prof. Hansmann talked about children and PH, while professor Torbicki talked about challenges and answers to access to treatment in Eastern Europe. Prof. Vonk Noordegraaf talked about future PH drugs, while Prof. D’Alto presented the concept of initial combination theory in PAH. We also had sessions on peer-to-peer mentoring, nutrition and a presentation about Ayurveda. All in all, a diverse and interesting set of presentations very well perceived by the participants.
Of course, nothing beats a face-to-face meeting, but 2021 was another year where alternative solutions had to be made. We think we managed to portrait the friendly and great atmosphere of our APHEC and provide our participants with a memorable and informative very professional online event. Now that the pandemic seems to be fading away, we hope that we can eventually meet face-to-face again in Barcelona. Our APHEC for 2022 is planned for the first week of November.
Our virtual APHEC was, once again, a great success. We will keep the conference area open yet a couple more months. If you want access to it so that you, for instance, can watch the above mentioned presentations, write an email to Hall (firstname.lastname@example.org) and he will grant you access.