The Stroke Society of Australasia (SSA) had its first in-person conference since 2019 in 2022, held at the newly opened Te Pae Conference Centre in Christchurch. Delegates world-over attended both physically and virtually. The excitement and anticipation of a face-to-face event in a beautiful venue was extraordinary.
Research brought to the forefront areas where stroke care was making strides, while simultaneously highlighting areas for improvement, including how we provide dedicated and equitable care for our Indigenous and rural populations.
While there were many incredible talks from speakers attending from across the world, this report includes highlights from each day, as they relate to the themes for the year: ‘Excellence, Connections, Equity’.
The conference was opened with a beautiful Karakia as part of a Mihi Whakatau (Māori formal welcome and prayer) by members of the Tuahiwi Marae of Ōtautahi, Christchurch. We paid our respects and gave our thanks to our ancestors and the land we were on.
The plenary lectures kicked off with Professor Bruce Ovbiagele on ‘Improving Stroke Outcomes for Disparate Populations in High Income Regions’. This talk was particularly relevant to the themes of the conference, as Professor Obviagele discussed the idea of ‘social prescribing’ – which is to include social circumstances in considering methods of stroke risk reduction.
We were updated from a Neurointerventional perspective from Dr Ferdinand Miteff, Consultant Neurologist and Interventional Neuroradiologist at John Hunter Hospital, and Dr Emma Harrison, Stroke Neurologist and Interventional Neuroradiology Fellow at Royal Prince Albert Hospital. Here, we were given an insight into the elements of peri-thrombectomy that can be optimised. Dr Harrison gave us an insight into the future of thrombectomy, looking at medium vessel occlusion, intraarterial thrombolysis, and new evidence showing excellent outcomes for EVT even in basilar artery occlusions.
The second plenary of the day focused on stroke in indigenous populations by Professor Alan Barber, Professor of Neurology at The University of Auckland, with a focus on the Māori and Pasifika population of New Zealand. The take away message was, to quote Professor Barber: “We need to acknowledge that health services were not designed with indigenous populations in mind.” He also noted the addition of Māori staff in caring for stroke patients assists in improved culturally targeted treatment.
The highlight of day two was an emotive talk from Te Aniwa Reedy, Te ORA Manager with The Māori Medical Practitioners Association. Her presentation was on ‘Optimising Stroke Care: a Māori Consumer Perspective’. Te Aniwa told us about her personal experience with stroke care, and the tragic losses she and her whānau (family) suffered within the health system. She spoke of her loved ones and their stroke journeys, and poignantly detailed how their Māori ethnicity likely affected their care. The personal touch Te Aniwa added with a patient perspective offered eye opening insights into how health can appear to be provided equally, but not be equitable. Te Aniwa left us all with tears in our eyes and food for thought in altering our own practices and how we tackle health inequity going forward.
The last and final day of the conference was headlined by the debate sessions in the morning. Some interesting topics were brought forward for discussion, including whether patients should receive thrombolytic agents prior to EVT if presenting to a comprehensive stroke centre. Attendees were invited to vote in a poll at the end of each debate, allowing a formal ‘winner’ to be announced. Further discussion was also had around sex differences in stroke care, both pre-hospital and with regards to reperfusion therapies.
We need to acknowledge that health services were not designed with indigenous populations in mind.Professor Barber
Fantastic catering, a wonderful venue, and hearty conversation and learning made the first face-to-face SSA conference in two years a conference to remember. This was further emphasised on the evening of day 2, which brought the event most anticipated by the attendees – the Gala Dinner. Stalls by The Stroke Foundation (both the New Zealand and Australian branches), Stryker Neurovascular, Australasian Stroke Alliance and many more allowed delegates to interact with the sponsors of the event in depth.
The focus on improving the provision of health care, ensuring equitability to all members of society was illustrated from a variety of stakeholders. This was done with a view to improving connections both between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations of New Zealand and Australia, but also, between urban and rural areas. Individual research presentations in areas of advancements in care, provided an inspirational environment within which to learn more about stroke care. Overall, it was an unforgettable, and highly educational event for all those in attendance.
Key Learning Points
- A culturally and ethnically diverse workforce is key to achieving both excellence in stroke care and health equity
- Artificial intelligence is a growing field within diagnostic radiology and is improving accuracy of CT perfusion
- In addressing health inequity, we must consider differences in risk factors, health literacy, and regard the current health care system in our biases
- Māori and Pacific populations are likely to have strokes nearly 15 years earlier than those of European descent
- Telehealth is a growing field of interest, especially in rehabilitation services within rural populations