The 2014 Oppenheimer Fellowship has been awarded to Keertan Dheda, making him the fourteenth recipient since the award's inception and the sixth awardee from UCT.
Professor of Respiratory Medicine and Head of UCT's Division of Pulmonology, Keertan Dheda has been awarded the 2014 Oppenheimer Fellowship.
The Oppenheimer Trust's premier award, the fellowship is granted to top scholars engaged in cutting-edge, internationally significant work that advances knowledge, teaching, research and development in South Africa.
During his career Dheda has received several prestigious awards, including the MRC Gold Scientific Achievement Award and the 2010 International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease Scientific Award. He has published over 145 peer-reviewed papers in international journals, including three seminal papers in The Lancet, and holds three patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies.
He is involved in the activities of several international academic societies, serves as co-chair of the Latent TB Infection sub-group of the Stop TB Partnership and holds a Visiting Professor appointment at University College London.
One of his main research interests is the study of multi-drug-resistant pulmonary infections, including tuberculosis. TB is now the commonest cause of death in South Africa. Easily treatable TB strains have been superseded by highly drug-resistant strains (MDR-TB) and those that are virtually impossible to treat due to high-grade resistance (XDR-TB and TDR-TB, totally drug-resistant TB).
Holding a monetary value of R1.5 million, the Oppenheimer Fellowship will enable Dheda to study the epidemiology, spread, optimal diagnosis, and outcomes of these highly drug-resistant strains and one of the aims of the work is to design a user-friendly test to identify the super-spreaders of drug-resistant TB '“ the minority of patients who spread most of the disease.
Dheda commented: "TB is out of control in this country, is a common killer, and has a substantial deleterious impact on our economy. Even worse, the spectre MDR-TB and virtually untreatable XDR-TB that is emerging is one of the gravest public health threats facing the African continent.
"New approaches to diagnosis, treatment and interrupting spread are urgently required to minimise the devastating impact of this emerging scourge. The Oppenheimer Award could not come at a better time and is particularly welcome as it will facilitate research to improve the control of drug-resistant TB."
The Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship Awards were initiated by the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust in 2001 to commemorate its founder and all he stood for, especially his efforts to support human and intellectual development, advance scholarship and encourage ideas.
At the award ceremony the chair of the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, Nicky Oppenheimer, said, "We are delighted to confer this honour on Professor Dheda and offer him the opportunity to advance this important work. This is an innovative project that seeks to address a real threat and contribute to improvements in public health care delivery and we wish him and his colleagues every success."
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