The success of medical research in South Africa was celebrated at the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) Awards, featuring in the emerging researcher, established researcher and lifetime contribution categories.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, says that medical research continued to do well in spite of the tough competition from other fields of research. “Bearing in mind that most of the categories in the NSTF Awards are for innovation and engineering, this is even more remarkable.”

The annual NSTF Awards is the most significant science, engineering, technology and innovation awards ceremony in South Africa and celebrates outstanding contributions to these areas of research. It also encourages the involvement of science and technology organisations in research and raises awareness generally about local research and its relevance to everyday life.

The NSTF Awards ceremony is sponsored mainly by South32, a mining company, Eskom and the Department of Trade and Industry.

The Minister lauded the illustrious parade of researchers, particularly the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) researchers. “Their achievements affirm the DST’s commitment to the research chairs programme through the R2,2 billion allocated to this programme since 2008.”

She believes the chair-holders brought the best of research and innovation to South Africa and the African continent. “We firmly believe that Prof Salim Karim’s CAPRISA, Prof Valerie Mizrahi‚Äôs Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, Prof Kelly Chibale’s Drug Discovery and Development Centre and Prof Helen Rees’ Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute rank among the best in the world and are equal to internationally respected institutes in the US and UK.”

The list of this year’s finalists indicates that medical research again took the lead. Prof Helen Reese, the Executive Director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, won in the contribution-over-a-lifetime category by an individual.

Prof Rees received this award for her contributions in the field of HIV prevention, reproductive health and vaccines, where she enjoys global recognition as a public health strategist with a unique ability to translate research into policy and practice.

She shared this award with Prof Robert Scholes, Distinguished Professor of Ecology at Wits, for his contribution to environmental science, systems ecology, savannah ecology and global change.

Khilona Radia, CEO and team leader of Atrium Biotech, received an award in the category of research leading to innovation by a team or individual in an SMME. Radia promoted and developed an accurate rapid test for extra-pulmonary TB that will save lives and reduce healthcare-related costs.

Other winners included Prof Zander Myburg of the University of Pretoria for his research into uncovering the genomic control of wood formation in fast-growing eucalyptus trees, which is significant for fuel production. He received the TW Kambule-NSTF Award for research outputs over the last five to 10 years.

Dr Thulani Makhalanyane also received the TW Kambule-NSTF Award in the category of emerging researcher for his performance and contribution to the field of microbial ecology of hot and cold deserts.

Marina Joubert, researcher and lecturer at Stellenbosch University, received an award in the category of communication for outreach and creating awareness. Joubert has pioneered science communication as a field of practice and research in South Africa.