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Professor Heather Zar
: The
breath of life for Africa’s children
Professor Zar has led the development
of a strong translational clinical research
programme that is focused on respiratory
illnesses that cause most morbidity and
mortality in African children and globally. A
strong focus has been on pneumonia – the
major killer of children under five years of
age – to evolve new strategies for diagnosis,
prevention and treatment, including those
for HIV-infected children. Tuberculosis (TB),
a relatively neglected, important cause of
childhood illness, has been another focus,
particularly developing better ways to
diagnose and prevent childhood TB. Asthma
is the most common chronic illness in
African children – her research has included
delineating the epidemiology of childhood
asthma and developing a low-cost system
for therapy. Such research has contributed
to changing global practice and to improving
child health through better diagnostic,
preventative and management strategies.
Most recently, Professor Zar was awarded funding
from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the
Drakenstein Child Lung Health Study – a birth cohort
study that aims to investigate the causes and risk
factors for pneumonia and the long-term impact on child
lung health. This is a unique study that will investigate
the effects of a broad range of risk factors (nutritional,
environmental, psychosocial, microbiological, maternal,
genetic, and immunological) on child health. The
funding provides the core for many sub-studies and for
much development of research capacity.
In undertaking such research, Professor Zar has also
been able to develop much-needed capacity in child
health, through the growth of a productive paediatric
clinical research unit at Red Cross Children’s Hospital
(a new, expanded unit is soon to be built), development
of several satellite clinical research sites at other health
facilities, such as community-based clinics, and training
of several PhD and master’s degree students.
“Professor Zar’s work is not only of enormous scientific
importance but also, and perhaps more significantly,
it improves the lives of many thousands of children”,
according to Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor
Danie Visser.
In recognition of her research contributions, Professor Zar
has received several awards and holds many leadership
positions in international and national organisations
including President of the Pan African Thoracic
Society and President of the South African Thoracic
Society. Recently, she was given a special award at the
International Congress of Paediatric Pulmonology for
“outstanding leadership and distinguished service to
children with the greatest need”.