DURBAN - University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) research professor and senior faculty member of the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) Frank Tanser has been awarded a prestigious Royal Geographical Society Back Award for conducting seminal research that has shaped health policies in poor countries.

The Royal Geographical Society prestigious medals and awards recognise excellence in geographical research work. Recipients include Sir Alexander Burnes, David Livingstone, Alfred Russel Wallace, Captain R Scott and Sir David Attenborough.

The Back Award is named after Arctic explorer Admiral Sir George Back. It was first given by the Royal Geographical Society in 1882 and is awarded for applied or scientific geographical studies which make an outstanding contribution to the development of national or international public policy.

Tanser is a medical geographer and infectious disease epidemiologist who has pioneered the use of geographical information systems in the field of HIV epidemiology.

For the past 20 years, he has worked in northern KZN. His research into the population-level impacts of the antiretroviral therapy (ART) roll-out has led to wide-reaching and rapid changes to government policy on how ART programmes in South Africa are designed and implemented.

Tanser said he was delighted and deeply honoured to receive the prestigious award. “It has been a huge privilege to study the HIV epidemic in one of the world’s most severely affected rural communities and to witness first-hand the turning of the tide against this terrible disease,” he said.

He credits his team of researchers and collaborators for the achievement and thanks his family for their support.

Tanser’s work includes a seminal study published in Science in 2013 that showed nurse-led and decentralised HIV antiretroviral treatment programmes in rural areas could be successful in reducing HIV transmission.

“This accolade is thoroughly deserved. I am delighted that the seminal epidemiological work conducted at AHRI is being recognised in this way,” AHRI director Professor Deenan Pillay said.

“Congratulations on this wonderful achievement. You deserve it for the amazing contribution you make to impoverished communities burdened with the HIV epidemic in KwaZulu-Natal. We are so proud of you,” Professor Busisiwe Ncama, deputy vice-chancellor and head of UKZN’s College of Health Sciences, said.

THE MERCURY