Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship Award

1 December 2015

Top scientist at the University of the Witwatersrand receives the Oppenheimer Fellowship


Johannesburg – 01 December 2015

The Board of the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust is pleased to announce the recipient of the
prestigious Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship Award for 2014: Professor Helen Rees of the University of the Witwatersrand.

Rees becomes the fifteenth recipient of the Award since its inception and the fourth from Wits.The Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship Award was initiated by the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust in 2001 to commemorate the Trust’s founder and all he stood for, especially his efforts to support human and intellectual development, advance scholarship and encourage innovative ideas. The Trust has a long tradition of investing in education and in other areas and many beneficiaries have gone on to make important contributions to South African public life. The Fellowship builds on and expands this tradition and is the Trust’s premier award with a monetary value of R1,5 million. It is a special investment to encourage and acknowledge excellence in scholarship in all its forms. Candidates from all disciplines compete annually for the Award and it is granted to scholars of the highest calibre who are engaged in cutting-edge, internationally significant work that has particular application to the advancement of knowledge, teaching, research and development in South Africa.

Professor Rees is the founder and Executive Director of the Wits Reproductive Health & HIV Institute (Wits RHI), the University of the Witwatersrand’s largest research institute, which also serves as a WHO and UNAIDS Collaborating Centre in reproductive health and HIV and as a SA Medical Research Council Collaborating Centre in HIV and TB.

Rees is a Personal Professor in the Wits Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, an Honorary Professor in the Department of Clinical Research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Honorary Fellow of Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge.

Rees received her medical degree and a Master’s in Social and Political Science from Cambridge in the late 1970s and worked in Harare Central Hospital as a registrar in paediatrics and neonatal medicine. She moved to South Africa in 1984 where she headed
Paediatrics at the Alexandra Clinic and was an anti-apartheid health activist with the National Medical and Dental Association.

Professor Rees is internationally renowned as an expert in HIV prevention, reproductive
health and vaccines and is one of South Africa’s best known women scientists. She serves
in leadership roles in both national and international structures and currently chairs the SA Medicines Control Council, the WHO/PATH Committee on Maternal Influenza Immunisation, the WHO Working Group on Ebola Vaccines, the WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Polio and the WHO African Technical Committee on Immunisation. She is also a member of the Scientific Committee of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases and two ministerial committees on immunisation policy and health sector data.

In 2001 Professor Rees was made an Officer of the British Empire for her contribution to
global health and was the first recipient of the Department of Science and Technology’s
‘Distinguished Scientist Award’ in recognition of her ‘outstanding contribution to improving the quality of life of women’ (2006). In the same year, she received a lifetime achievement award from Amanitare, a pan African NGO dedicated to the rights of women and children, and was elected as a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf). Other accolades followed: The ASSAf ‘Science for Society Gold Medal’ (2011), the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s International Heath Clark Lectureship (2011), the South African Medical Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2012) and Wits University’s Vice-Chancellor’s Research Award (2012).

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