Cathy Berx

2020 has been an exceptional year in so many ways. Despite its many hardships, never have I learnt so much about how the pieces of our global puzzle fit together and how relevant the work of ITM and its employees is to face public health threats. I am so honoured to have been able to reside over the governance bodies of the Institute during this time, and all the achievements that have been so diligently delivered throughout this intense year.

To begin, I would like to congratulate our Director Marc-Alain Widdowson for his marked commitment in his first full year of leadership that has provided the Institute and its employees the needed pragmatism and clear direction through this extraordinary period. Similarly, I would like to thank the members of the Management Committee and every single employee in their teams for taking on the year with such remarkable gusto, despite it being full of many personal sacrifices. The intense interest and willingness to be involved in understanding and mitigating the pandemic for the public good was palpable and outstanding.

Through my role as Governor of the Province of Antwerp, I know how much your engagement, energy, scientific research and knowledge helped and is still helping authorities manage this very real threat to public health. At the same time, I am also impressed at your ability to maintain focus on the overall priorities of the Institute despite this larger than life but very necessary distraction.

I am happy and proud that your work brought the illustrious visits of the King and Queen of the Belgians and the Flemish Minister Hilde Crevits to the Institute in 2020. It was very gratifying that we were also able to offer them face masks made of African fabrics by the hands of our dedicated staff.

On a governance level, our biggest challenge lay in mitigating the risks for the Institute during this tumultuous year, and in finding the best ways of working to ensure the organisation could move ahead. Thankfully, we welcomed to our ranks a new General Manager, Ann Peters. She has been instrumental in supporting Marc-Alain and the Management Committee in its daily running of the institute. Particular management tasks completed during this pandemic-stained year included securing the safety of the staff, students and the visitors to the Institute, ensuring that our research remained unwavering in all areas while accommodating pandemic research, and reorienting some clinical staff to support pandemic activities while maintaining their regular commitments.

In this environment, I was very pleased to see the General Council being a stable body that had moved beyond its initial ‘teething problems’ linked to its first years of establishment. It is now a well-functioning team that has the right structure to be able to gather the many unique and diverse voices from around the world that it encompasses. These voices help ITM to stay true to its mission and vision. Since March 2020, our meetings always concluded with an epidemiological update of the pandemic from around the world, which was incredibly enriching for all involved. As always, I would like to express my gratitude for their excellent contribution throughout the year.

Similarly, my thanks go to the members of the Board, who, despite their many other high-level professional commitments, were always there to make the key decisions of the Institute, also when they had to be expediated due to urgent COVID-19 related requests. As always, your commitment to and support of the Institute is highly valued.

Looking to 2021 – let’s see what it will bring. According to the experts the pandemic will remain for some time to come. Along with its commitment to fighting this particular infectious disease, I am pleased to say that ITM has the team, structure and public support to continue in its search for excellence in research, education and clinical services in the science of tropical medicine, and to increasingly demonstrate its extraordinary value to health systems in an inextricably linked globalised world.

Cathy Berx

Governor of the Province of Antwerp
Chair of the Board of Governors of ITM

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