News Release: Research , School of Medicine

Nov. 17,  2010

Pneumonia Vaccine Expert Receives Top Science Award from Royal Society of South Africa

News Article ImageA physician and microbiologist, Emory Professor Keith P. Klugman MD, PhD, is a native of South Africa. Klugman is the William H. Foege Professor of Global Health in Emory's Rollins School of Public Health.

The Royal Society of South Africa has awarded Emory Professor Keith P. Klugman MD, PhD, with the 2011 John F.W. Herschel Medal – the top science award in South Africa. Klugman is the William H. Foege Professor of Global Health in Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health. He is considered the world’s leading expert on antibiotic resistance in the pneumococcus, the leading cause of bacterial pneumonia, and his research on the pneumococcal vaccine has led to groundbreaking advances in global public health.

The medal is awarded for Klugman’s multidisciplinary contributions to science in South Africa and to the reduction in childhood mortality through the implementation of conjugate pneumococcal vaccination in developing countries. The honor will be announced on Nov. 17, 2010, and awarded at the Society’s annual dinner in Cape Town on Sept. 27, 2011.

A physician and microbiologist, Klugman is a native of South Africa. From 1995 to 2000 he served as director of the South African Institute for Medical Research, the country’s parallel agency to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He joined the Hubert Department of Global Health at Emory’s school of public health in 2001.

“Dr. Klugman’s work in global public health has had a tremendous impact on preventing illness and death, and we are very proud to see him recognized through this prestigious award,” says Carlos del Rio, MD, chair of Emory’s Hubert Department of Global Health.

In 2003 Klugman completed a landmark pneumonia vaccine trial in 40,000 South African Children. The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded overwhelmingly that the vaccine could save thousands of lives among both HIV- positive and HIV-negative children.

Klugman’s paper in the August 2004 issue of Nature Medicine showed that the new pneumonia vaccine decreases the number of severe influenza-related hospitalizations among young children. A large proportion of deaths from influenza stem from the secondary bacterial infections that follow, and children who got the pneumococcal vaccine had less influenza-related pneumonia. A letter in the Dec. 24, 2009 New England Journal of Medicine reviewed historical data showing that vaccination against bacterial infections such as those that cause pneumonia may reduce deaths from flu-related pneumonia.

Klugman’s work to prevent pneumonia through vaccines also has included a vaccine to protect against Haemophilus influenzae type B (HIB), the second leading cause of pneumonia and also a leading cause of meningitis in children in resource-limited countries. The vaccine is commonly available in the United States, but Klugman is trying to find strategies for the vaccine to be more affordable and available in developing countries.

He also is involved in improving global surveillance and laboratory capacity for the diagnosis of infectious diseases, and in 2005 he was appointed chair of the International Board of the American Society for Microbiology, a group with more than 40,000 members.

Klugman remains committed to improving health conditions in South Africa and follows a cohort of almost 40,000 children in Soweto. He directs the University of Witwatersrand Respiratory and Meningeal Pathogens Research Unit in Johannesburg.

“Dr. Klugman is at home both in Atlanta and in Johannesburg and he serves as a bridge between leading public health institutions in Atlanta such as the CDC and Emory and the University of Witwatersrand,” says James Curran, MD, MPH, dean of the Rollins School of Public Health.

The Royal Society of South Africa, founded in 1908, is an independent, interdisciplinary organization that aims to further all branches of science in South Africa. Fellows and Members occupy senior positions in universities, research agencies and industry. The Society has consistently played the leading role as the public face of South African science and has fostered a national culture of science excellence through funding, education and public outreach.

The senior medal of the Royal Society is named after Sir John Frederick William Herschel (1791-1871), who lived in Cape Town as an astronomer from 1834 to 1838 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

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The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service.

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