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The Durban University of Technology (DUT) hosted the Inaugural Professorial Lecture of Professor Poovendhree Reddy, a Full Professor in the Department of Community Health Studies under the Faculty of Health Sciences.

The lecture was held last Thursday, 31 March 2022 from 17:00 to 19:00 on Microsoft Teams.

Her presentation topic was titled: Predictive Prevention: Public Health at the Precipice. Her research adopts a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving in the public health space.

She draws on her expertise in applied sciences (genetics, microbiology and chemistry) and health sciences (epidemiology and biostatistics) to engage in multi-disciplinary research related to risk assessment associated with public health.

Giving opening remarks was the Programme Director, Professor Suren Singh, Executive Dean: Faculty of Applied Sciences. “In essence, the lecture to be provided by Professor Reddy has a two pronged approach. Firstly, it is an opportunity for full professors like Professor Reddy to introduce themselves, present their contributions and highlight their achievements in the field of research and thus create a wider awareness of the benefits of the university teaching and research. Secondly, for Prof Reddy to celebrate her accolades with her family, relatives, friends, mentors and colleagues, all of whom played a major role in completing her evolution to the higher order,” he said.

Prof Sibusiso Moyo Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Engagement, took the opportunity to add a congratulatory note and acknowledge the breakthrough that our women scientists, researchers and academics have made within the academy and hierarchies of our South African higher education system. She added that Prof Reddy joined DUT more than 20 years ago, is an established NRF C-Rated researcher with a successful record of supervision of 20 postgraduate students, a significant publication track record, a successful grant acquisition portfolio and a record of initiated strategic partnerships which amongst a whole host of achievements have contributed to the University awarding her a Full Professorship rank.

“It is my singular honour as Vice-Chancellor and Principal to welcome and congratulate Prof Reddy on this important milestone.”

Prof Mthembu added that DUT is not only celebrating this individual achievement by Prof Reddy as a researcher, a professor and a supervisor, but also her contribution towards DUT’s Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2021 and 2022 that made DUT take 5th position in the country. He indicated that Prof Reddy has contributed significantly to DUT’s research agenda with her work in Public Health, Genetics and Epidemiology. He added that she has participated in a number of inter-disciplinary projects, extending her work in public health to collaborate with the SARChI Chair in Water and Wastewater Technology, where water epidemiology using molecular techniques was used to establish surveillance methods.

“You can always go to Professor Reddy and she will be there. She is always super organised and she gets things done. She’s the first one to send an email back after it’s been sent out and she still finds the time to get publications out. She is dependable, and when she sees an SOS, she’s always there for the person who sent it. She’s incredible.”  He added that her contribution to research capacity development within her programme, the faculty and DUT is exceptional.  She has initiated and driven several staff and postgraduate student related research initiatives within the faculty and DUT and is invested in growing the next generation of academics, believing strongly in the notion of “paying it forward.” Prof Reddy has 90% publication rate with her Masters and PhD graduates, which means that almost all her postgraduates have peer reviewed publications from their research. She walks the talk with respect to her goal of “taking the postgraduate student from proposal to publication,” said Dr Moeti Kgware, Head of Department: Community Health Studies.

Professor Poovendhree Reddy delved into her presentation titled: “Predictive Prevention: Public Health at the Precipice.”

She explained that we cannot cope with the disease burden in South Africa and the continent, indicating how the indicators in maternal and child mortality, HIV and TB, remain a challenge. A phenomenal share of the budget is allocated to healthcare, but we are still failing. “COVID-19 has clearly shown that sickness equates to a spent economy. We need greater commitment to prevention, not just a cure,” she stressed.  She explained the disease impact on family, livelihood and society and iterated that early identification of illness can reduce healthcare costs and improve the quality of life.

“Today we remain at the precipice of possibility prevention. Cutting edge technology is available and advancing rapidly from genomic medicine to artificial intelligence. There are ways of advising people of care and lifestyle advice called predictive prevention. We can offer earlier diagnosis and target treatments whilst also supporting self-management. The power of predictive medicine comes from enabling people to understand their health risks in the context of their lives, circumstances and behaviours, in order to make positive changes,” she said.

Prof Reddy highlighted on the gene-environment interaction with respect to respiratory disease and air pollution, which was affected by oxidative stress and innate immunity. “In terms of the findings, we found significant gene-environment effects with specific mutations. Pollutant effects on respiratory health were far more frequent among children carrying these mutations. Prof Reddy gave insight into the epigenetic and genetic interactions that influence inter-individual asthma risk. “We need to consider the most vulnerable when setting pollutant exposure limits, so that every person is invariably protected. Targeted interventions to offset this include diet, supplementation and lifestyle modification,” she said.

She has also investigated biomarkers for maternal oxidative stress and the effects on DNA damage, inflammation and birth weight. She further spoke on epidemiological, clinical and biochemical assessment in relation to maternal health; and circulating levels of selected biomarkers for the risk of hypertensive disorders linked with pregnancy.

“We showed a mid-gestational expression of inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines in HIV infected pregnant women and reported that ARV therapy given during pregnancy impacts the expression of cytokines, which may affect both the pregnancy and the new born. This added to the increasing body of evidence for antiretroviral-associated hypertension, a phenomenon that is rapidly gaining momentum as a major healthcare burden. Consolidating these biomarkers into mainstream antenatal care could prove useful in decreasing maternal morbidity and improving birth and neonatal outcomes.

Further on in her presentation, Prof Reddy spoke on exploring the option of genetic testing to understand one’s risks. She focused on stakeholder attitudes and practices, conveying that doctors agreed that predictive genetic tests increased prevention of chronic disorders, but there was a dire need for guidelines, expertise and the affordability of these tests. “COVID-19 has sensitized people to genomics, so this is an optimal space to build on this technology. There is a need for early risk profiling of the disease. Behaviour and lifestyle changes can either delay the onset of the disease or avoid it entirely.” she said.

Prof Reddy’s current focus is on antimicrobial resistance. Water based epidemiology is used to explore a surveillance strategy to detect drug resistant tuberculosis and establish community prevalence.

In summary, she said that prediction and surveillance in public health has enormous potential. Early diagnosis, individual self-management, predicting susceptibility is invaluable.

“Knowing where to direct resources and public health interventions are some of the immediate benefits of predictive prevention and surveillance, a decreased burden of disease and an improved quality of life will surely follow,” she remarked.

Lastly, she thanked her incredible team, supervisors, collaborators, staff, postgraduate students, friends and family for their support, motivation and inspiration. “I was fortunate to have stood on the shoulders of giants,” she said.

Giving closing remarks and vote of thanks was Prof Gugu Mchunu Executive Dean: Faculty of Health Sciences.

Pictured: Professor Poovendhree Reddy

Waheeda Peters

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