Globally renowned for her work on Asthma in Children, Professor Refiloe Masekela (@bronchigirl), Head of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of KwaZulu-Natal is a recipient of the distinguished National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Global Research Professorship award. The NIHR’s flagship career development award, worth over R45 million over a five- year period will fund research on avoidable morbidity from Asthma in African children.
Masekela who is a paediatric pulmonologist is the first researcher based in a low- and middle-income country to receive this award and the first Black African female. Masekela’s research aims to improve access to effective and affordable asthma care for children in Africa. She said, ‘Asthma affects 1 in 10 children globally and is the most common non-communicable disease (NCD) in children and adolescents. Sadly, in Africa, asthma is largely neglected with children suffering severe morbidity from asthma. Lack of access to a diagnosis of asthma as well as poor access to quality assured cost-effective medicines are key gaps in asthma care.’
The award will also fund 3 doctoral candidates in clinical as well as health economics research as well as develop a Pan African respiratory NCD repository. ‘I aim to create an African Asthma Observatory to determine the prevalence of and risk factors for asthma in 3 African countries using validated methodologies. I will also conduct a study to assess the clinical and cost-effectiveness of a pragmatic single inhaler-based approach to asthma management in children and adolescents in South Africa. My ultimate goal is that all children and adolescents with asthma in Africa should have equitable access to affordable and effective care,’ she commented.
Masekela has held various leadership positions in local and international thoracic societies. She is the Vice-chairperson on the Pan African Thoracic Society (PATS). As the Vice President of PATS, part of the mission is to highlight issues around lung health in Africa and to guide policy in various countries in the continent. Masekela is the current Director of the American Thoracic Society (ATS) Methods in Epidemiologic, Clinical and Operations Research (MECOR) Africa programme. The MECOR program is a research methodology programme run by the Pan African Thoracic Society, which provides training on operational and clinical lung research for trainees from all over Africa and has trained over 450 trainees from over 20 countries. She is also a group member of the ATS Paediatric Global Health Group. Through PATS MECOR, she developed the African Women in Research Mentorship Programme.
When the recipients were announced, a delighted Masekela remarked, ‘The prestigious Global Health Research Professorship will provide a step-change in my career, establishing me as a global research leader. As the first female black African to receive this award, I am humbled and excited to embark on this journey. I am particularly pleased that this professorship includes funding for PhDs in both clinical research and health economics, as well as support costs for our wider team. This helps strengthen our research capacity in an area which has historically been under-resourced.’