Friday, November 7, 2014

The Annual Cochrane Pilgrimage…my first one ever!

In this blog-post, Rebecca John, Research Scientist at the South Asian Cochrane Centre, recounts her experiences of organizing and participating in The 22nd Cochrane Colloquium held at Hyderabad, India.

Rebecca John (holding bouquet) at the closing ceremony of the 22nd Cochrane Colloquium. 
Rebecca is flanked on her right (farthest to nearest) by Ajay Tripathy, Prathap Tharyan and Anna Joseph; and on her left by Jabez Paul Barnabas, Richard Kirubakaran, Venkatesh Parthasarathy, and Samuel Victor
Where it all began for me:

It was a little over a year ago that I responded to an advertisement for the post of Research Scientist for the Effective Health Care Research Consortium that was published by the South Asian Cochrane Network and Centre (SASIANCC), hosted at the Professor BV Moses Centre for Evidence-Informed Health Care and Health Policy at the Christian Medical College, Vellore, India. Dr Prathap Tharyan, the Director of the Centre, was by no means a stranger and having sat through many sessions by him during my Public Health course, I was eager to step into the world of ‘Cochrane’! 

One of the first conversations I recall having with Dr Prathap after applying for the job (and before actually being selected), was of him telling me about this ‘great’ event called the Colloquium coming up the following year and that the SASIANCC would be hosting it. He went on to say, “If you get the job, you would be required to spend about 10 days in Hyderabad in September 2014.” I can still remember thinking to myself, “I have no idea what a ‘Colloquium’ is!”; and “I am going to have to leave my kids, but I've never been away from them for so long!”

My next stop: laptop….googled the word ‘Colloquium’ and consulted  Wikipedia, my trusted fount of knowledge, so I now knew what a Colloquium was. I eventually found my way to the 21st Colloquium website, saw a lot of photos online from the Quebec Colloquium, heard stories from colleagues who has been there, and thought to myself, “This looks like a whole lot of fun!”

The actual experience:

The first step towards gearing up for the 22nd Cochrane Colloquium was a trip by the SASIANCC team to Hyderabad in October 2013 to look at the venue in more detail and also to find the best possible accommodation for varying budgets. After the trip, each of the team members was allocated a role as part of the local organising committee. I was given the task of helping out with registration and accommodation. A bit daunting at first, but with the help and support of other team members it turned out to be a great experience!

With the start of registration on 3rd of March 2014, it was like the floodgates had opened…we had the usually starting hiccups but within in a few days we were all working together and had things up and running like a well-oiled machine !


The last two weeks….Before we knew it September had crept upon us and the mood at SASIANCC was something similar to that at Santa’s residence the night before Christmas! Everyone was hard at the tasks assigned to them; with no time for chit chat or even coffee breaks. We all had but one goal in mind and that was to make the 22nd Cochrane Colloquium a memorable one for ALL our delegates.

My personal highlights:

On a personal note, it being my first Colloquium ever… was that it was a memorable one. It started off with the Evidence Aid Symposium, and an opportunity to finally meet up with many of the lovely people I had been emailing over the past few months.  By the end of the third day I guess the Cochrane Colloquium spirit just took hold; meeting up over coffee or lunch with people from various centres and groups was all too exciting!!

Rebecca with Jini Hetherington
(Also in the picture are Ruban Das, and Anna Joseph
(partly hidden behind Jini).
From a professional point, it was really great to meet people who have been involved with Cochrane in various capacities; some newcomers like me, and some who had been giving of their time and talents to the Collaboration for decades.

What struck me most was that Cochrane is all about networking, and in reality Cochrane is truly a ‘Collaboration’ of people who are NOT trying to getting ahead of others (like so many other professional bodies!!) but of those trying to work across geographical and cultural borders for ‘Trusted evidence, Informed decisions & Better health'.

The 2nd Annual Cochrane Lecture ‘Evidence-based Medicine and The Cochrane Collaboration: a McMaster perspective’ delivered by Professor Gordon Guyatt was in all senses the highlight for me. Prof Guyatt kept the delegates not only engaged but thoroughly interested for a whole hour.

Looking back:

Now looking back it seems like a dream.. and all too soon the curtains fell on the 22nd Cochrane Colloquium... with a thrilling Bollywood Dance-off (where I put on my dancing shoes after a break of 20-odd years!) serving as a fitting finale. But, while it felt so good, I also felt a sadness come over me as it was time to say goodbye to the many lovely people I had met.

On a positive note, I walked away inspired, enthused and motivated to strive harder to ensure that the ‘Not just evidence but the right evidence’ gets out there!

Auf Wiedersehen & Wir sehen uns in Wien !!

Rebecca John

NB: Readers may wish to also read a publication co-authored by Rebecca and based on a poster presented at the 22nd Cochrane Colloquium: 
Representation of women as editors in the Cochrane Collaboration published in the Journal of Evidence Based Medicine (doi:10.1111/jebm.12123).
Prathap Tharyan

Friday, October 3, 2014

Our Cochrane Hyderabad Story

This blog-post was submitted by: Tarun George- with Anand Viswanathan, Samuel Kamalesh Kumar, Donae Elizabeth, and Riya Mathew from the Christian Medical College, Vellore, India, and recounts their experiences at the recently concluded 22nd Cochrane Colloquium held at the Hyderabad international Convention Centre.

The authors at the Colloquium
An internal medicine physician, a psychiatrist, two physical medicine & rehabilitation professionals, a primary care physician working in rural India, and a final year medical student from a government college independently decided to attend the week-long Cochrane Colloquium in Hyderabad from 20-27 September 2014.  

We all had different reasons for it varying from scepticism, plain curiosity and a deep desire to become part of the Evidence-Informed Health Care movement. The differences notwithstanding, this was an eye-opening experience for all of us. Many of us discovered that Cochrane was not just about systematic reviews, but that its core thrust was to promote people-centric quality research by critically appraising all available evidence and contextualizing it to inform health decisions relevant to the patient in front of us and to achieve better health outcomes.

The Colloquium

The Cochrane Colloquium was a global forum attended by about 600-650 people from different parts of the world, with varying backgrounds and skill sets, at different stages of knowledge generation and delivery. The common denominator, though, was ‘moving forward’. 

Everyone was supportive, and always willing to help. We met people from a myriad of fields -statisticians, librarians, researchers, medical students, public health officials, nurses, physical & occupational therapists, traditional medicine practitioners and clinicians.  At the newcomer’s session we discovered that everyone had a unique story on how they became part of this network. We built many lines of contact and made numerous friends.

Pre-Colloquium Workshops

At the pre-conference workshops we tweaked our skills at getting the evidence right. Renowned names from the publishing world sensitized us on the peer-review process, and on what the editors look for in a journal submission. We were educated about the approaches to systematic reviews, and that in order to conduct sound secondary research one has to be reasonably adept in understanding primary research- sample size calculation, assessing risk of bias, study design methods etc., and to carefully interpreting results.

Plenary Sessions

The plenary sessions predominantly focused on how to achieve better public health outcomes and to build capacity. We were given insights into the complexity of health systems especially in low- and middle-income countries. Many speakers concurred on the need for a concerted effort from all the stakeholders- that includes lay people, the ground level health-workers, the researchers and the policy makers at the top. Only then we would be able to gather appropriate evidence in the right way, make informed decisions,and channel our scarce resources to achieve the best possible healthcare for all.

The Big-Bang Ending

The Colloquium concluded with a magnificent gala dinner where delegates participated in a Bollywood dance-off, and some of us shook our tail feathers! We departed over the weekend with resolves for ourselves and for our institutions.

So what did we take back from the colloquium?

This is a consolidated synopsis arrived at over a cup of chai at the Charminar.

We resolved that we need to: 
At Charminar
  • Go back to being students! 
  • Strengthen our desire to search for answers that we don't have 
  • Ask the right patient-centric questions 
  • Build skills and a support system to acquire the right information 
  • Use the resources in The Cochrane Library 
  • Possibly get involved in doing systematic reviews sometime in future 
  • Work towards “effective healthcare for all” with optimal utilization of   resources.

Capacity-building begins at home:

Capacity building at all levels is necessary, but we could start from home, by strategically empowering people like you and me in this vast web of health-care. The first step would be to meet periodically in informal gatherings, discuss how to go about achieving these goals and get the rest of our community involved - from the librarian to the clinician.

Hoping to meet some of you at the next Cochrane EBM forum and take things from there. 

A lot can happen over a cup of tea:

Tarun George- with Anand Viswanathan, Samuel Kamalesh Kumar, Donae Elizabeth, and Riya Mathew 

NB: I invite other participants at the 2014 Cochrane Colloquium to share their experiences, reflections or comments to build on the tremendous enthusiasm evident at Hyderabad. Please send you submission to or to  

To find out more about what happened at Hyderabad, visit: or

Prathap Tharyan

Monday, July 28, 2014

Cochrane comes to Hyderabad, India in September 2014: How can we best use this opportunity to influence the trajectory of health care in the region and globally?

With less than a week to go before the close of early registration (July 31st, 2014) and the beginning of regular registration (till September 1st, 2014), we are busy putting the finishing touches in our preparations to host the largest and most important business and scientific meeting that the world will see this year of people and organizations involved in producing, maintaining and disseminating credible evidence to inform health decisions. This gathering has the potential to affect the lives of millions of people living in the region and globally.

The CochraneCollaboration will celebrate its 21st Anniversary as the world leader in providing credible evidence to inform health decisions at the 22nd Cochrane Colloquium that will be held at the Hyderabad International Convention Centre (HICC) from the 21st to 26th September, 2014. Pre-Colloquium workshops and symposia will be held on the 20th and 21st and post-Colloquium workshops on the 27th and 28th September at the HICC and other venues in Hyderabad City. The theme of the Colloquium, 'Evidence-Informed Public Health: Opportunities and Challenges' provides participants of the Colloquium a platform to discuss ways in which Cochrane evidence, and Cochrane methods that have evolved, and been refined, over the past two decades, can contribute to improving public health globally and regionally; given the context-specific challenges faced by health systems and organizations involved in delivering public health and developing public health policies, particularly in resource-constrained settings.

Why is this Colloquium particularly important to health decision-making in the region and globally?

Importance to the region
The Hyderabad Cochrane Colloquium marks the first time that a Cochrane Colloquium is being held in South Asia. Cochrane Colloquia differ from the usual scientific medical conferences that are held in the region. These medical conferences usually involve people from single disciplines, such as renal medicine or diabetes, and focus on recent advances within these disciplines. Though undoubtedly of value to those within these disciplines, they differ from the scope of Cochrane Colloquia that are of relevance to a wide range of people from different disciplines involved in ensuring that the evidence for the effects of health-interventions across disciplines, or of the accuracy of diagnostic tests or procedures used in all areas of health care, are underpinned by robust methods, and hence can be trusted to provide benefits of relevance to those using them.  Driven by collaborative efforts involving some of the best methods experts and researchers working in different areas of healthcare, the scientific sessions at the Hyderabad Colloquium will help equip participants with the knowledge and skills to evaluate whether the recent advances and established interventions in their disciplines are actually worth investing in, and the extent to which they will deliver the benefits reported in primary research studies. The scientific sessions and skills-building workshops at the Colloquium will include topics relevant to research design, locating evidence, research synthesis, dissemination of research evidence, and using research evidence to frame policy options. They will involve clinicians from medical, surgical, nursing, dental and allied health fields; clinical and laboratory researchers; health administrators; health policy makers; health economists; statisticians; public-health specialists; health-related national, regional and international organizations;  health technology experts; the media, information and communication specialists; health care consumers, their care givers, and their advocates; and members of the lay public interested in health issues. All this will occur without any funding from the drug or device industry, and hence ensure that Cochrane evidence is not influenced by those with a vested interest in the interventions or diagnostic tests being evaluated.

The Hyderabad Colloquium will therefore provide considerable opportunities to influence the trajectory of health care and health decisions in the South Asian and wider Asian region by providing an alternative ‘evidence-informed’ model to the pre-dominant ‘profit-based’ or ‘opinion-based’ models of health care prevalent in many parts of the region. Such a gathering of people and organizations committed to using the best-available evidence to inform health decisions and health policy has the potential to inspire people in the region, particularly younger health professionals, who are dissatisfied with current models of health care and health decision-making, or who are unsure about how to make any changes to existing systems, or who are at that stage in their professional careers where local and global partnerships with individuals and organizations involved in these endeavours can influence the direction of their professional lives. Building such epistemic communities, with their own spheres of influence on health decisions, has an immense potential to influence how people in the region view evidence and the role that reliable and relevant evidence can play in improving health outcomes. This is undoubtedly one of the important benefits we expect from holding this Colloquium at Hyderabad.

Importance to global health
The greater participation of people from the region at the Hyderabad Colloquium will also provide Cochrane with unique opportunities to learn from participants about the contextual issues that impact on evidence-informed health decisions, particularly those affecting public health. This region is home to a large part of the world’s population, and is marked by considerable diversity in access to, and the delivery of health care. Innovative ways of dealing with such diversities can also help inform health decisions elsewhere. This will provide Cochrane with opportunities and challenges as it builds on the success of its global endeavour over the past two decades and plans for the future.

What can a newcomer expect from attending this Colloquium?

Anyone who attends a Cochrane Colloquium can be assured about one thing. You will never be same again. Cochrane Colloquia provide opportunities to meet with and be inspired by some of the world’s leading experts in research synthesis and in promoting the dissemination and uptake of research; and you will see health decision-making in an entirely new light. The interactions and the opportunities for collaboration offered by attending a Cochrane Colloquium are unparalleled. You can attend pre-Colloquium and post-Colloquium sessions focussed on using health technology more effectively in producing and disseminating research evidence, learn about critical appraisal and peer-review, hear about the work of Evidence-Aid that was an outcome of a massive regional disaster-the Asian tsunami of 2004, and that now provides an platform to provide relevant evidence to those involved in humanitarian relief after disasters; get involved in an exciting partnership between Cochrane and Wikipedia; learn about the methods of research synthesis in public health, and attend a two-day primer on health economics. There are also full day workshops on the methods of research synthesis of diagnostic test accuracy and on grading the evidence. Many of these are free for those registered for the full Colloquium.

During the Colloquium, we will have five themed plenary sessions with three to five plenary speakers per plenary who represent a range of experiences and expertise from around the region and the world; and a special plenary dedicated to the 2nd AnnualCochrane Lecture that will be delivered by Professor Gordon Guyatt from McMaster University, Canada, who coined the term Evidence-Based Medicine.  Oral presentations (around 80+) will be held concurrently in the forenoon, after the plenary sessions. There will also be six themed specialsessions during the forenoon, concurrent with oral sessions. Over 80 skills-building or information-sharing workshops will be held concurrently in the afternoons. Over 200 attended poster sessions will be held during the morning breaks and over lunch. Meetings of Cochrane Groups will be held before and after the scientific sessions and during breaks. The topics covered in these various scientific sessions and workshops provide an eclectic mix of topics traditionally covered in Cochrane Colloquia as well as newer topics that address the challenges Cochrane faces in making review production more efficient, and the products more accessible to, and in formats required by those who need this evidence. There will also be sessions devoted to improving the evidence-base in complementary and alternative medicines including Ayurveda. We will also have a special session for newcomers to Cochrane and to Cochrane Colloquia to welcome you and connect you to relevant people with whom you can partner with in the years to come.

What does Hyderabad have to offer participants at the Colloquium?

Apart from the scientific content at the Colloquium, Hyderabad is an ancient city that offers visitors the best of modern conveniences as well as glimpses of its 400-year old past. Visitors to Hyderabad can be assured of a well-connected city, comfortable and safe accommodation, delectable local and international cuisine, a temperate climate, a dazzling array of shopping options, a welcoming population and enduring friendships. Hyderabad is an ideal destination for first-time visitors to India, and a great launching pad to visit other destinations in India and the region. Participants registered for the Colloquium will be offered free tours of some of the iconic places in the city, as well as optional customized tours that will give you a specialexperience of the city and its culture.  The glittering welcome reception will feature exceptionally talented artistes bringing you the best of the drums and dances of India and we also offer you the opportunity to become a Bollywood star in our Cochrane-BollywoodDance-off that will be highlight of the BollywoodNight-Gala Dinner. We will be happy to help you with any enquires and to facilitate your travel; e-mail us at:

Register now and be part of history

Participating in the 2014 Cochrane Colloquium at Hyderabad as a delegate, exhibitor,or sponsor offers you opportunities far in excess of that offered by attending scientific conference. You will be participating in history as Cochrane celebrates the generosity of its contributors and all those who have worked collaboratively over the past 20 years to improve the health of millions of people world-wide through the use of credible evidence; and as Cochrane prepares to face even more challenges at Hyderabad in September in understanding the challenges of providing evidence to improve public health, particularly in under-resourced settings, and in attempting to seize the opportunities offered by collaboration in influencing health globally and regionally. 

Can you think of anything better to do this year?

Swagatham! We look forward to welcoming you to Hyderabad. 

Prathap Tharyan, Director, South Asian Cochrane Centre
On behalf of the Organizing Committee