News | South Africa | Health
Scientists leading the charge in the fight against Covid-19 were among those who were honoured at this year’s South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) Scientific Merit Awards
This year’s ceremony was no ordinary prize-giving, as they took place at a time when science has been at the forefront of the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
For at least one laureate, Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, the moment highlighted the importance of allowing science to lead in times of crisis. Bekker is a Professor of Medicine at the University of Cape Town and Director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre.
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Bekker, who received a Platinum award for her contributions to various scientific fields in her lifetime, has also emerged this year as one of the pillars of South Africa’s fight against Covid-19.
“I have always loved the work I do, so to also receive recognition feels like a bonus because its incredibly rewarding work in its own right and I suppose that really come to the fore in the era of Covid,” she told The Citizen.
Prof Linda-Gail Bekker. Picture: UCT.ac.za
“I have always worked in the HIV and TB, and clearly one does vouch for the public benefits in terms of trying to find solutions to enormous challenges there. Covid-19, because everything has been so rapid and felt so urgent, I think its been underlined in the last 35 days how important science is, how important research is, and that the world still needs public health researchers.”
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Bekker is currently working on two pivotal research projects in Covid-19 as well as HIV/AIDS. One is looking at efficient ways to get the anti-retrovirals to HIV positive adolescents amid the lockdown restrictions and challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic which has kept many patients from receiving their treatment.
“We have got another project looking at the epidemiology of Covid in very crowded environments such as we have found in our townships, where practising non-pharmaceutical interventions is incredibly hard to do. And so we have really tried to understand household contact and what can be done in those very crowded environments to try and alleviate those risks.”
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The 2020 Platinum Medal went to Bekker and Professor Heather Zar, Professor and Chair within the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at Red Cross Children’s Hospital. Zar was also Director of the SAMRC’s Unit on Child & Adolescent Health.
Their category was for scientists who achieved a lifetime of exemplary and outstanding endeavours in the field of health. Past recipients included the late Professor Bongani Mayosi, Professors Valerie Mizrahi, and Salim Abdool Karim, head of the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19.
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