The Conference Team: Bringing The Union to the World

The Conference Team:  Bringing The Union to the World

For many people around the world, “The Union” is the Union World Conference on Lung Health -- the pivotal event each year for anyone interested in tuberculosis, TB-linked diseases from HIV to diabetes, tobacco control and other lung health challenges. Attracting delegates from more than 120 countries, it showcases the latest in research, policy and practice with emphasis on low- and middle-income countries.  

Putting on the conference involves hundreds of people from volunteer session coordinators and speakers to caterers and cleaners – but at the heart of all this activity is just three people – the conference team based at The Union’s Paris headquarters.  

The conference team is a close-knit unit who have worked together to organise World Conferences from Paris to Cape Town, Kuala Lumpur to Cancun ­­-- as well as supporting conferences in The Union’s seven regions.  Conference Coordinator Anuradha Castan came to The Union from the European Respiratory Society in 1998, where she had worked in membership and conferences.  She became scientific programme coordinator in 2004 and assumed responsibility for managing all aspects of The Union’s conferences in 2010.  Agnes Djengue joined The Union in 2003 and Cecile Castel in 2008 – both coming from backgrounds in planning scientific and corporate events.

Through their dedication and skill, the World Conference has grown significantly. Attendance has nearly doubled over the past few years; and the conference has become fully self-funding with revenue coming not only from registration fees, but also from a growing number of exhibitors, satellite and side events, advertisers and sponsors.

Building the five-day scientific programme is a core function that requires the conference team to work closely with the Union members who serve on the Scientific Programme Committee and the Coordinating Committee of Scientific Activities. “One of the unique aspects of The Union conference is that any interested person can put forward an idea for a session,” explains Anuradha.  Consequently, each year close to 200 session proposals are submitted online that are eventually narrowed down to the 70 symposia, post-graduate courses and workshopsoffered at the conference.

A record 1,900 abstracts were submitted for this year’s World Conference in Barcelona, Spain. The team also processes these submissions online, sending them to 110 expert reviewers, who make recommendations to the Coordinating Committee on Scientific Activities (CCSA).  “Although we facilitate this process, the CCSA determines what the scientific programme will include,” says Anuradha.

Once the sessions are chosen and abstracts accepted, the conference team handles all the communication and logistics for more than 600 speakers, chairs and coordinators and supports the researchers presenting close to 1,000 posters.  This involves managing a myriad of details from ensuring that they understand when and where to give their presentations or hang their posters to spelling their names correctly in the final programme.To handle all the different aspects of the conference, each member of the team has to be an adept multi-tasker.  Anuradha’s responsibilities range from site visits, bids and budgets to audio/visual specs, room allocation, catering and vendor management. Agnes takes the lead on supporting the scientific programme, but also manages the continuing education credits for delegates and works with IT to continually improve the conference’s online tools.   Cecile is in charge of registering the 3,000 delegates, as well as soliciting and supporting more than 50 exhibitors.

The team also works closely with colleagues across the Institute, including the Executive Director’s Office, IT, Logistics and Travel, Communications, Membership, Finance/Accounting and all of the technical departments.

All agree the World Conference has a special energy, a feeling like a Union family gathering that makes the pressure and deadlines worthwhile: 

“The conference creates a very dynamic platform for people from many cultures, countries and regions, so it’s always exciting to prepare for it—and then see it happen,” says Anuradha.  

“For the delegates who come from low-income countries, it’s the trip of the year,” says Cecile, who assists those who have no credit cards and sometimes even no bank account.

“It can also be the opportunity of a lifetime in terms of the people delegates meet, the jobs they learn about,” adds Agnes.  

Ironically, when the delegates arrive at the conference centre in Barcelona on Wednesday, 28 October this year, the job of the conference team will be nearly finished.  “At that point, everything is set to go, and we’re just looking after last-minute things,” says Anuradha.

In fact, this team never stops. By then, they will be well into working on their next two international conferences –  the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Abu Dhabi, UAE (17-21 March 2015) and the 46th Union World Conference on Lung Health in the autumn of 2015.

The 45th Union World Conference on Lung Health will be held in Barcelona, Spain on 28 October-1 November 2014.  For details, please visit