In yet another historic achievement, not one, but two scientists associated with Stellenbosch University (SU) – Prof Tulio de Oliveira and Dr Sikhulile Moyo – have been awarded this year's German Africa Award. The award was handed over by the German Federal Chancellor, Olaf Scholz.
The award comes just months after the scientists were selected for this year's TIME 100 Most Influential People list.
De Oliveira is a professor of Bioinformatics holding a joint appointment at SU's School for Data Science and Computational Thinking, the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. Moyo, in turn, is an SU alumnus who obtained his PhD in Medical Virology at the University in 2016, and currently serves as laboratory director at the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP).
The two scientists are being recognised for their work in the field of genomics and epidemiology. In November 2021, they led the multidisciplinary team who discovered the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, which quickly became the dominant variant of the virus globally.
Since 1993, the German Africa Foundation has been honouring outstanding personalities from the African continent who have made a special commitment to democracy, peace, human rights, sustainable development, research, art and culture or social issues in Africa with the German Africa Award. The award winners are selected each year by an independent 20-member jury.
Says De Oliveira: “The German Africa Award highlights the fact that world-class work, such as research on infectious diseases, can be done in Africa. This breaks the perception that when you think of Africa, you only think of poverty and the lack of technology, etc. During the pandemic, South Africa was a global leader in scientific research. With the right investment you can create centers of excellence that can have a massive influence in the whole world and in fact protect the whole world. High-level science and high-level technology can be done in South Africa and can have a big effect on not only health, but also on business. Sometimes we have to be assertive as was the case with the detection of Omicron where our research had to be replicated first in Europe to be proven."
Expertise and accolades
According to a statement released by the foundation: “De Oliveira and Moyo are shining examples of expertise, integrity and courage and also prove what many in Germany and Europe do not believe to be possible due to the prevailing distorted image of Africa: that top medical research is also at home in Africa and that the continent has successful crisis management in the global pandemic from which Europe can and should learn."
De Oliveira is the founding director of the University's new Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI), for which he has already raised more than R300 million in funding. CERI is based in in the School for Data Science and Computational Thinking and operates from both the world-class Biomedical Research Institute at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences on SU's Tygerberg Campus and from offices on the Stellenbosch Campus. He is the recipient of numerous awards and accolades. These include the South African Medical Research Council gold medal, the South African health minister's special Covid-19 award at the seventh national Batho Pele excellence awards in March 2022, and being included in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's prestigious Technological Review list of the top 10 technological breakthroughs of 2022.
Moyo, in addition to his position at BHP, is also a research associate of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and an adjunct senior lecturer at the University of Botswana. He has been serving as a member of Botswana's Covid-19 presidential taskforce and continues to contribute to that country's national response. Moreover, this pioneer in HIV research is a former co-chair of the laboratory technologist committee for the global AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) and the International Maternal, Paediatric, Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trials Network (IMPAACT).
One of his biggest contributions has been in the field of mother-to-child HIV transmission studies. These have had a significant impact on preventing HIV transmission, improving birth outcomes, HIV incidence, diversity and drug resistance, as well as multiple pathogen genomics projects involving hepatitis, norovirus, sapovirus, human papillomavirus and tuberculosis. He is also a member of the steering committee of the PANGEA-HIV network, which analyses the dynamics of the HIV epidemic, and translates the findings into information that can be used to target interventions more effectively.
Prof Wim de Villiers, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor said, this acknowledgment cemented Prof De Oliveira and Dr Moyo as international leaders in their field.
“Their research and subsequent discoveries enabled governments around the world to make scientifically informed decisions about Covid-19 and the Omicron variant, and this award is a justification of their hard work and expertise. Stellenbosch University is immensely proud of their achievement and will continue to enable ground-breaking research with real-world impact.
“Awards like this further enables institutions of higher education in Africa to nurture future generations of scholars and intellectual leaders on the continent."
*Original media release supplied by the Deutsche Afrika Stiftung / German Africa Foundation
- Photo: Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz (middle) presented the German
Africa Award to bioinformatician Prof. Tulio de Oliveira of Stellenbosch
University, South Africa, and virologist Dr. Sikhulile Moyo of the Botswana
Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership at the Allianz Forum in Berlin on Friday
evening, 25 November 2022. Photo credit: © Heidi Scherm, German Africa Foundation