Durban-born Keertan Dheda is Professor of Respiratory Medicine and Head of the Division of Pulmonology at the University of Cape Town. He has received several other prestigious awards including the MRC Gold Scientific Achievement Award and the 2010 International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease Scientific Award. Dheda has published over 145 peer-reviewed papers in international journals including three seminal papers in the leading global journal, 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. Worryingly, easily treatable TB strains have been superceded by highly drug resistant strains (MDR-TB) and those that are virtually impossible to treat due to high-grade resistance (XDR-TB and TDR-TB, totally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). Patients with these untreatable strains are being discharged back into their communities as they are therapeutically destitute.
The Award will enable Professor Dheda to study the epidemiology, transmission dynamics (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 remarks “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.”