Durban - Professor Tulio de Oliveira, a professor of bioinformatics and director of South Africa’s Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation, has been named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2022.
The list consists of individuals who have made the most important contributions to the world, as identified and voted for by TIME magazine’s international network of editors, thought leaders and past recipients of the prestigious award.
The list recognises the impact, innovation and achievement of the world’s most influential individuals.
De Oliveira is the head of Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI) and director of the University of KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP), for which he has already raised more than R300 million in funding.
The University of KwaZulu-Natal said in a statement that de Oliveira’s nomination comes after recognition of his work in the field of genomics and epidemiology.
“In November 2021, Professor de Oliveira led the multidisciplinary team of researchers and scientists who discovered the Omicron variant of Sars-CoV-2 which quickly became the dominant global variant of the virus.”
Initially dubbed “the South African variant”, its discovery resulted in stigma, travel bans, and considerable public animosity towards Professor de Oliveira and his team.
“However, it soon became clear that although the variant was discovered in South Africa, it did not originate here, and the safety measures seemed more punitive than preventative,” UKZN said.
De Oliveira is the recipient of numerous awards and accolades, among them the Gold Medal from the South African Medical Research Council. He was also named one of Nature 10’s most influential scientists of 2021 and was awarded a Batho Pele Excellence Award for public service in South Africa in March 2022.
The university added that De Oliveira is passionate about leading the research and fight against epidemics from Africa, and frequently highlights the importance and value of local and international collaboration in battling the pandemic.
It said also on the TIME 100 list is De Oliveira’s past PhD student, Dr Sikhulile Moyo.
Moyo is the deputy laboratory director at the Botswana-Harvard Aids Institute Partnership (BHP) and a research associate with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
While studying for his PhD, Moyo spent time at both KRISP at UKZN and at Stellenbosch University.
Moyo is a pioneer in HIV research and serves as co-vice-chair of the Aids Clinical Trials Group laboratory technologist committee. One of his biggest contributions has been in the field of mother-to-child HIV transmission studies, which have had a significant and historic impact in preventing transmission and improved birth outcomes.
De Oliveira said the fact that southern Africa had produced two of TIME magazine’s most influential people in the world was proof that the university was deeply committed to developing high levels of scientific research in South Africa, and in Africa.
“Most importantly, to develop and capacitate the next leaders in the continent, I am especially proud that Dr Moyo was a PhD student of mine. In a country like South Africa where a lot of the time people are very good at highlighting their distances and differences, it’s important to highlight what we can achieve when we collaborate for the greater good.”
TIME magazine said scientists in Africa had been monitoring and sequencing pathogens since long before the pandemic and the world had benefited from this network when scientists, including Moyo and De Oliveira, had identified and reported the emergence of the Omicron variant last November.
“Every generation has people who inspire subsequent generations. Sikhulile and Tulio have the potential to be that for people who will work in public health and genomics. We have not seen the end of their contributions,” said the magazine.