Professor Heather Zar, head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health and director of the School of Child and Adolescent Health has been awarded a Medical Research Council (MRC) Extramural Research Unit. This award allows her to develop her research on childhood respiratory disease even further, and consists of R1-million a year for five years, with the potential for renewal for an additional two five-year cycles.
The award will be used to build a strategic framework to bring together current research projects undertaken by Zar and her team. These include the Drakenstein Child Lung Health Study, a birth cohort study that investigates the incidence, cause, risk factors and outcome of pneumonia in early childhood, as well as the intersection of early respiratory infection and development of chronic non-communicable disease later in childhood; research on human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-related respiratory disease in children and adolescents; and better ways to diagnose, treat and prevent childhood tuberculosis (TB).
"The MRC unit on child and adolescent lung health provides an important opportunity to undertake further research on some of the most pressing issues in child health in South Africa, Africa and globally. This is the first MRC unit to focus solely on child respiratory health, the major cause of death and morbidity in children worldwide," says Zar.
Globally around 1 million children under five years of age die from respiratory illness each year; and most deaths occur in the first year of life. These deaths are most commonly related to pneumonia, TB and HIV. While only 25% of the world's children live in Africa, it is also where 50% of childhood deaths occur. In South Africa, despite improvements in access to care and strengthened HIV and immunisation programmes, the under-five mortality rate remains high. Despite this, research into childhood lung health remains under-resourced and under-researched.
"The unit will support us to be at the forefront of research in child lung health in Africa and to ultimately improve the health of children and the population at large globally," says Zar.
Story by Natalie Simon. Photo by Michael Hammond.
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