Meet the project management!

Maria Elizabeth Garcia, PhD – Sant Joan de Déu Hospital

Today we are going to meet who’s behind CLOSER Project, and how the coordination of an international project such as ours is organised.

Elizabeth García, Project Manager from Sant Joan de Déu Hospital, is answering our questions to show us – and the patients, the patient associations, the families and everyone facing childhood leukemia – how the oversea coordination is a matter of communication and focused objectives!

How is HSJD-FSJD leading the Project?

During the last 10 years, Sant Joan de Déu Barcelona Children’s Hospital (HSJD), one of the most important pediatric high specialized centers in Europe, together with the Sant Joan de Déu Foundation (FSJD) coordinate some European-funded projects and participate in some others. Leading a project as CLOSER has many advantages but at the same time, brings some challenges that we have tried to overcome during these years. CLOSER involves European and Latin American experts (14 groups in total) and working with these groups that speak different languages, have different cultures, customs, and time zones requires to become better at understanding one another and working cooperatively. The flexibility of the coordination team to work with all the members of the consortium, finding and providing new solutions to move forward with the implementation of the project is essential to ensure a successful project. A fast answer to your question would be: “This is a complicated and ambitious project, but we are certainly enjoying leading it”.

What are the most important aspects of the Management with such an ambitious Project as CLOSER leukemia, which aims to reduce the survival gap in two continents?

As for all the European projects, understanding and communication are the most important aspects to take care of, especially when inequalities in health care between continents are evident. Thus, our mission is to create a highly collaborative multidisciplinary effort to provide LATAM countries with technical and social resources to improve outcomes in childhood leukemia. This cross-collaborative working plan involves, undoubtedly, a good communication strategy to identify and understand strengths and weaknesses, providing tools to improve outcomes. In the end, we work for a cause that we all care deeply about, and we are convinced of our work and willing, at the same time, to keep learning from one another.

We believe that in-person meetings provide a sense
of connection and empathy between partners

How did COVID-19 affect the Coordination activities?

The pandemic has delayed some of the tasks of the project; however, we have been following the development of the work thanks to the video conferencing tools. In this sense, the annual meetings initially intended to be face-to-face meetings were transformed into virtual events. We believe that in-person meetings provide a sense of connection and empathy between partners which is especially important in our project, that a virtual meeting can’t provide. Happily, the next 2022 annual meeting is being organized as a face-to-face event, and we expect the assistance of most of our partners.

How does the Coordination and Management strategy reflect the mission and the goals of the Project?

We work daily to keep everyone on board and ensure everyone is fulfilling their own responsibilities. At the same time, the coordinator team tries that everyone involved in the project finds themselves comfortable and that their efforts are recognized. We are lucky to have an exceptional consortium with excellently prepared partners to achieve the goals of the project. Appropriated mechanisms are already in place to facilitate communication among the different groups, with a common vision for the achievement of the objectives. Cooperation between partners has been essential to setting priorities and establishing efficient workflows. Currently, the consortium has created different working groups producing guidelines on the diagnosis and monitoring of childhood leukemia. Moreover, a Quality Control/Quality Assurance intercontinental program is part of the project, based on previous collaborations between the Latinamerican and European partners. A report summarizing the achievements in this collaboration was published recently in a high-impact journal.

CLOSER Leukemia already entered the second half of its lifetime as EU funded Project, how is it going to follow-up after the end of the Project?

Everything we have been carrying out is aimed to consolidate the collaboration between European and CELAC regions and mainly among the countries involved in the project. We expect that this project may serve as the seed for spreading the knowledge and capacities locally to other CELAC countries. We are moving forward and we are still open to learning, looking for the best way to achieve our goal. We believe that the online course on Integrated Diagnosis of Pediatric Leukemia with the Laboratory, prepared by the consortium, will be a valuable training course to anyone interested on pediatric leukemia. After CLOSER, this course will be supported by the University of Chile, and we hope that all this work can be preserved and updated according to the development of new techniques.

The empowering of patients and families through support organizations and in cooperation with the civil society representatives will drive a big change for the future in leukemia care. We are very happy to see that strong and stable bonds have been created between European and Latinamerican organizations within CLOSER. This fact will for sure help improving the situation in both continents.