Zar is UCT's third woman A-rated academic

23 July 2012

Prof Heather Zar

UCT's tally of women A-rated academics rose to three following the recent announcement of Professor Heather Zar's rating by the National Research Foundation.

Zar, head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital, joins Professors Jill Farrant and Valerie Mizrahi among the A-ranks. Married to head of psychiatry and mental health, Professor Dan Stein, she is also one half of UCT's first A-rated couple.

The A-rating marks the culmination of more than a decade of work to develop strategies to improve child health, and research into the leading causes of childhood illness and death in African children: tuberculosis, pneumonia, HIV-associated respiratory illness, and asthma.

A strong focus has been on pneumonia - the major killer of children under five - and finding new strategies for diagnosis, prevention and treatment of the condition, including for HIV-infected children.

TB, a relatively neglected but important cause of childhood illness, has been another focus. Zar has worked with others to develop better ways to diagnose and prevent childhood TB, tools that have changed global practice. Her research has included delineating the burden of childhood asthma in Africa and developing a low-cost device for therapy.

"This award is a wonderful acknowledgement of our work in child health. The rating reflects the body of work done by the excellent team that I've had the privilege to lead and work with as well as the rich collaborations that have been established."

The rating, she hopes, will hopefully also draw attention to the inequities in the funding of child health, which is "relatively under-funded and under-resourced".

Zar's projects have been supported through major global funding agencies, including the National Institutes of Health in the US, the European Developing Country Clinical Trials Partnership, the Wellcome Trust, the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunisation, the Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Institute and the World Health Organisation.

In 2011, she received a multi-million rand research grant to lead The Drakenstein Child Lung Health Study, a longitudinal birth cohort study that will follow 500 mother-child pairs in the Drakenstein region of the Western Cape from pregnancy through birth and early childhood. Along this timeline, they will investigate the determinants of respiratory illness, specifically pneumonia, in early life and the long-term impact on child health.

"This is an exciting and unique study in Africa, with much potential to identify new interventions to improve child health."

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