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AAS's biennial prize for innovation goes to University of Pretoria audiologist

The African Academy of Sciences (AAS) has awarded its biennial Olusegun Obasanjo Prize for Scientific Breakthrough and/or Technological Innovation to the University of Pretoria's Professor Daniël Swanepoel.

Prof Swanepoel was selected for the prestigious award prize for his “innovative and highly impactful research work” in tele-health and mobile health (mHealth), specifically in the field of audiology, the AAS wrote in a statement. He has collaborated on and conducted numerous research studies on using smartphone technologies to provide equitable access to hearing healthcare services, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

Professor Felix Dapare Dakora, the President of the African Academy of Sciences, says, “Congratulations to Prof Daniël Christiaan de Wet Swanepoel for achieving this feat. This award is a testament to his ingenuity in audiology and his dedication to improving the quality of life of Africans suffering from hearing impairment.

“Prof Swanepoel has pushed the boundaries in science to come up with innovative and impactful solutions to improve ‘ear and hearing care’ in Africa. As I extend my congratulations to him, I also welcome him to our growing membership of Fellows.”

The AAS awards the Olusegun Obasanjo Prize for Scientific Breakthrough and/or Technological Innovation every two years to honour African scientists who have made outstanding contributions in scientific discovery or technological innovation. Winners automatically become Fellows of the AAS as individuals who have reached the highest level of excellence in their field of expertise and have made contributions to the advancement of the field on the African continent.

“It is an honour to receive this prestigious award and it serves as a further inspiration to see access to healthy hearing become a reality for every African” said Prof Swanepoel.

Named after former President of Nigeria, H.E. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the prize will be given to Prof Swanepoel at the 12th AAS General Assembly (GA), themed, Converging the Sciences, Changing the Culture. As the third South African to win the AAS Prize, Prof Swanepoel will receive a prize of $5,000 and also give a public lecture at the GA event, which is taking place from 7-9 December 2020, virtually due to the current global circumstances.

As per tradition, the AAS organises the GA event with a country co-host, and this time, the continental academy is collaborating with the British University in Egypt (BUE).

Prof Barthelemy Nyasse, Secretary General of the AAS and host of the meeting, says, “We are pleased to be hosting the 12th GA in collaboration with the BUE. With this event we are not only providing a platform to showcase our achievements as an Academy but also that of science in Africa and to provide a platform to raise the profile of our scientists.”

Professor Yehia Bahei-El-Din, BUE Vice President for Research adds, “We are delighted to be the first university to host AAS GA in Egypt and we see this as an opportunity to boost collaboration between researchers across Africa as well as pave the way for exchange of scientists.”

The 12th GA, which will also induct new Fellows and Affiliates who joined the AAS in 2019, will include a session for scientists to showcase their research, which will be open to the public.

Professor Swanepoel is a Full Professor in the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, University of Pretoria and Senior Researcher at the Ear Science Institute Australia. He has 20 years of experience in ear and hearing research and is widely recognised as a leading international scholar with more than 160 peer-reviewed articles, books and book chapters. Professor Swanepoel’s research capitalises on the growth in information and communication technologies to explore, develop and evaluate innovative technologies and service delivery models to improve ear and hearing care. This translational area of research is primarily focussed on making ear and hearing health accessible, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

Other South African winners of the Prize include Professor Salim Abdool Karim and Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, who were the inaugural winners of the prize in 2011 for their highly acclaimed work on the use of the microbicide and Tenofovir gel. The third winner was the late Professor Viness Pillay who won the Prize in 2013 for his pioneering work in developing an oral formula for administering antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to children.

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