Modern-day epidemiologists are confronted with huge changes, such as the rise in the global population due to reduced mortality, migration within and across countries, massive shifts in economic standing and lifestyles, and environmental degradation. With over 1000 posters, more than 100 oral presentations, 16 workshops, four lunchtime symposia, many exhibitions and immeasurable discussions, the task of capturing all highlights of the International Epidemiology Association (IEA) World Congress of Epidemiology 2011 is impossible, but this article has provided a sample. Many presenters showed that the challenges facing global health are complex, changing and in demand of measurement, and they demonstrated the central role of epidemiology. The cutting-edge methodologies theme promised the emergence of a more transparent, better balanced, but also more critical approach to dealing with bias. Preceding the United Nations high-level meeting on non-communicable diseases (New York, 19th-20th September 2011), the Congress's chronic diseases stream was especially timely. The neglected conditions theme illustrated inspiring work battling against apathy, inertia and ignorance; perhaps the special challenge of the 'neglected conditions epidemiologist'. Translating epidemiology's insights into effective policies and programmes to prevent diseases or reduce their impact is not easy. Speakers highlighted the common failure of epidemiologists to contribute actively to improving the health of the populations they serve, especially the poor and disadvantaged, but also provided many examples where they had done so. The 'other' theme ensured that important studies were not lost from the programme just because they did not fit easily into the specific themes. The studies focused on identified risk factors throughout the life course. A variety of methods were used to identify factors that altered the rate of birth, disease and death. Ongoing epidemiology is not only broad but is also deep, and ever more so as collaborative pooling of expertise, data, populations and ideas has emerged, accelerated by modern-day communication technologies. Epidemiology, and epidemiologists, seem poised for tomorrow's world.
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