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ASSAf: Statement by Academy of Science of South Africa, recognises top South African scientists (23/10/2013)

23rd October 2013


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The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) recognised top South African scientists at its prestigious Annual Awards Ceremony in Pretoria on 23 October 2013.

ASSAf annually awards up to two ASSAf Science-for-Society Gold Medals for outstanding achievement in scientific thinking to the benefit of society. This year, Prof Olive Shisana was recognised for her contributions in the campaign to understand and contain HIV/AIDS in South Africa.

Shisana is Chief Executive Officer of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), Honorary Professor at the University of Cape Town and immediate past-President of the International Social Science Council. Prior to this she served as the HSRC’s Executive Director of Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS and Health, and was previously the Executive Director, Family and Community Health, World Health Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland.

She is an authority in HIV surveillance, having been a principal investigator for several second-generation surveillance systems for HIV. She was one of the founders of the South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, as well as the Maternal and Child Mortality Surveillance. Her recurrent national household surveys on HIV/AIDS prevalence, practices and attitudes have greatly influenced the HIV/AIDS campaign in our region. She has served on many national and international scientific committees and advisory boards, such the Ministerial Advisory Committee on National Health Insurance, the US Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Methodological Challenges in HIV Prevention Trials, the Emory University Global Health Institute Advisory Board, the South African National AIDS Council and the chair of the Nelson Mandela’s 46664 Board.  She has recently been appointed to head the South Africa’s BRICS Think Tank and is Chair of the Council of BRICS Think Tanks as well as the AIDS 2016 Global Conference South African Co-chair.

Two young scientists were also recognised for the prestigious AU-TWAS Young Scientists’ National Awards. These awards aim to recognise and reward the scientific achievements of young researchers working in Africa.
The prize in the category Life and Earth Sciences was awarded to Prof Landon Myer from the University of Cape Town. Prof Cornie Scheffer from Stellenbosch University received the prize in the category Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation.
The AU-TWAS Prize for Young Scientists in South Africa is managed by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), on behalf of its partners, the African Union (AU), The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) and the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST). Through this award, the AU and TWAS jointly recognise and reward an outstanding scientist in South Africa. The recipient should be under the age of forty, living and working in South Africa, and have a record of research publications in internationally recognised science journals. The award pertains to the science fields of Life and Earth Sciences; and Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation.

Myer is an Associate Professor in the Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics of the School of Public Health and Family Medicine at the University of Cape Town. He is also Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, USA. His specific research focus is on reducing the impact of HIV/AIDS on women’s, maternal and child health, particularly in the areas of prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission and contraception for HIV-infected women. He has published more than 150 peer-reviewed scientific publications and also serves on a number of national and international scientific committees. He has been an active proponent of open-access scientific publishing as part of a broader commitment to increasing the availability and uptake of research across Africa. Linked to this, he is Editor of the South African Journal of HIV Medicine and helped move the journal to an open-access platform with international indexing. His research has been recognised through a number of prestigious awards, including the British Association Award (Silver Medal) from the Southern African Association for the Advancement of Science (2012) and the International Leadership Award from the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation (2011-2014).

Scheffer is the founder of the Biomedical Engineering Research Group (BERG) at Stellenbosch University. BERG is currently one of the leading groups in South Africa for research in the field of biomedical engineering. He has co-authored more than 100 scientific papers and supervised a vast number of postgraduate students. Some of his previous prizes and awards include, “Upcoming researcher of the year”, Faculty of Engineering, University of Stellenbosch, 2005 ; Winner in the DTI Technology Awards 2008 for best SMME development; Joint winner of the Baumgarten-Wagon award (Germany) in 2009 for outstanding contributions to engineering education, and the Rector’s award for excellent research 2010 & 2012.

At the same event, the Sydney Brenner Fellowship, administered by the Academy and supported by the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, was awarded for postdoctoral studies in the molecular and cellular biosciences conducted at an advanced level in South Africa. This award was established when Dr Sydney Brenner donated a portion of his 2002 Nobel Prize to ASSAf to permit ASSAf (in partnership with the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust) to offer a prestigious postdoctoral Fellowship for research in molecular biology to be undertaken in South Africa over two years by an outstanding young scientist.
The emphasis in the selection is on the excellence of the academic track record; evidence of unusual creativity and ingenuity in addressing scientific problems; both the novelty and feasibility of the proposed approach; and the quality, adequacy and appropriateness of the host environment.

The 2014/15 Fellowship was awarded to Dr Anna Coussens, a postdoctoral research Fellow at the University of Cape Town. She received her PhD from Queensland University of Technology, Australia, in developmental molecular biology. Thereafter she volunteered in Uganda with a Medical Students’ organisation, running health surveys in remote communities. This experience shaped her desire to become an infectious disease immunologist. She then moved to London where she contributed significantly to a programme of work on vitamin D regulation of the immune response to tuberculosis. Now in Cape Town, she is defining how seasonal UVB patterns affect vitamin D levels in healthy young adults and how this impacts their immune response to HIV-1 infection.



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