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Director of SAMRC extramural research unit scoops ASSAf science top award

Prof Madhi

Eminent scientist and Director of the SAMRC Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit (Wits VIDA), Prof Shabir Madhi, has been awarded the Science-for-Society Gold Medal by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) at its Annual Awards Ceremony held virtually on 20 October 2021.

Annually, ASSAf awards two of these medals for outstanding achievement in scientific thinking to the benefit of society – another co-recipient was Professor Barry Schoub who is also a close-associate of the SAMRC.

For over two decades, Madhi has been conducting clinical and epidemiological research with a specific focus on the clinical and molecular epidemiology and prevention of pneumonia, meningitis, neonatal sepsis and diarrheal disease and he has more than 500 scientific manuscripts he co-authored since 1997, to show for it. As a trained paediatrician, Madhi’s research has focused on the epidemiology and clinical development of vaccines against pneumonia and diarrhoeal disease. These studies have informed World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations on the use of the lifesaving pneumococcal conjugate vaccine and rotavirus vaccine in children, and influenza vaccination of pregnant women.

Most recently, Prof Madhi has been at the forefront of the country’s fight against Covid-19 since it hit our shores early last year. In addition to having served in the first Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19, he also led the first two COVID-19 vaccine studies undertaken in Africa. He has been involved in multiple epidemiological studies on COVID-19 in South Africa and through various forms of media, he continues to play a crucial role in educating the public about the virus and vaccination.

Accepting the award, Prof Madhi had this to say: “It’s a wonderful recognition of the contributions of a highly talented team that I have the privilege of leading over the past 26 years. The VIDA team has and continues to undertake highly impactful translational research on epidemiology of vaccine preventable diseases and contributed to the clinical development of vaccines against the leading respiratory pathogens causing suffering and death, most of which unfortunately occur on the African continent”.

Currently Dean of Wits University’s Faculty of Health Sciences, Prof Madhi also wears many other hats – in addition to being National Research Foundation A-rated scientist, he is the National Research Foundation/Department of Science and Innovation SARChI Chair in Vaccine Preventable Diseases, and he is Co-Director of African Leadership in Vaccinology Expertise (ALIVE). He chairs the National Advisory Group on Immunization in South Africa. Madhi was formerly President of the World Society of Infectious Diseases and he is the immediate past Executive Director of South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases.

As a global leader in science, he has become a regular to the science red carpet.  In 2016, Madhi received the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trial Partnership Award for Scientific Leadership and in 2013 he was awarded the SAMRC Lifetime Award Platinum Medal, to mention a few of his accolades.

SAMRC President and CEO, Prof Glenda Gray who also served alongside Madhi on the MAC for COVID-19, congratulated him. “Prof Madhi has made significant contributions to the medical field and public health broadly in South Africa and globally, this achievement is well deserved,” said Gray.

At the awards, fourty-three of the country’s leading scholars and scientists were inaugurated as new ASSAf members bringing its total membership to 632. New Members are elected each year as an honour in recognition of their scholarly achievement.