Professor honoured with international award for raising awareness of childhood TB

Chairman of the Japan Anti-Tuberculosis Association, Shoji Kudoh, presents the Princess Chichibu award to Distinguished Professor Robert Gie
Distinguished Professor in Paediatrics and Child Health at Stellenbosch University, Robert Gie, has been honoured with the 2015 Princess Chichibu Global Tuberculosis (TB) Memorial Award in recognition of his international work in childhood tuberculosis.

The annual award, presented by the Japan Anti-Tuberculosis Association (JATA), in collaboration with The International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, is given to someone who has shown remarkable achievement in the global fight against TB.

"Gie has been an active driver in the process to get childhood TB acknowledged worldwide," Chairman of JATA, Dr Shoji Kudoh, said at the awards ceremony.

He said Gie, a paediatric pulmonologist with special interest in research and international policy in childhood tuberculosis, had also assisted many young doctors and students by teaching internationally on childhood TB and childhood pneumonia, especially in poorly resourced countries.

Gie has been recognised for raising awareness of childhood TB internationally at a time when it was barely acknowledged and considered an orphan disease.

As chairman of the technical advisory committee of the World Health Organisation's Global Drug Facility, he was instrumental in getting TB medication to children in countries that couldn't afford to import the drugs.

Through the initiative of the committee, subsidized TB drugs were distributed to 200,000 children in countries in Africa and Southeast Asia who didn't have access to TB medication.

Gie has played a key role in establishing WHO international health guidelines for the treatment of childhood TB and has both chaired and served on top-level international committees.

Gie welcomed the award, but credited international colleagues and experts, who he said had collectively raised awareness of TB in children.

"I feel privileged to have worked with so many people internationally that have been involved in this effort to ensure that children with TB are recognized and correctly treated. It is very rewarding to see the rapid increase in efforts to get children with TB treated.

"At least a million children become ill with TB ever year globally. These children need child-friendly drugs and improved diagnostic tests. There are still many obstacles ahead in overcoming childhood TB, but at least it is now receiving the attention, research and management it deserves."

According to the WHO, 140 000 children a year die of TB, a curable disease. In South Africa, 40 000 cases of childhood TB were reported in 2013.

The award, presented at the 46th Union World Conference on Lung Health in Cape Town, was established by JATA to commemorate the work of the late Princess Chichibu, a member of the Japanese imperial family.

Princess Chichibu devoted her life to the prevention of TB, after her husband, Prince Yasuhito died after a 10-year struggle with the disease. Princess Chichibu served as patroness of JATA for 55 years.  

Dr Kudoh said the award was initiated based on Princess Chichibu's will to make the world free from TB.
Kim Cloete