RSPH honoured with prestigious VC Awards

 Professor Brian P. Schmidt AC FAA FRS - ANU
19 November 2020

Associate Professor Kamalini Lokuge, Dr Meru Sheel, The COVID-19 Taskforce led by Professor Darren Gray, and Professor Lyndall Strazdins receive awards.

The Vice-Chancellor’s Awards celebrate the depth and diversity of talent within the ANU staff community. RSPH has shone as a School that boasts exceptional researchers and the ability to have far-reaching impact, receiving awards in three of the eight categories – an extraordinary result.

“I am exceptionally proud of the award winners and every member of our School. Together we have risen to the challenges presented by 2020. From bushfires to the pandemic, our researchers have been in the thick of it – producing quality evidence, engaging with Government, and informing the public,” says Professor Lyndall Strazdins, RSPH Director.

“But it hasn’t stopped there. As staff pivoted their roles to respond directly to these disasters, others have stepped up to ensure our core research continues as planned, and our students receive world-class teaching and mentoring. It really is a whole School effort behind each of these awards.”

Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Impact and Engagement

Associate Professor Kamalini Lokuge AOM has genuinely saved lives from COVID-19 and contributed substantively to Australia’s successful response. By engaging with stakeholders and providing what is needed most at a time of crisis, she has shown outstanding impact and partnership.

Associate Professor Kamalini Lokuge

Her work, and that of her team, has contributed significantly to Australia’s world-leading response to COVID-19. This has included providing evidence for lockdown; designing surveillance systems for Australia and New Zealand; strengthening Australia’s contact tracing system; serving as an expert witness supporting effective public health measures; Chairing the Commonwealth’s Prevention of COVID-19 Resurgence working group, and working closely with State Governments.

A major contributor to Kamalini’s ability to help with COVID was ANU supporting her to work on Ebola, Lasser Fever and other outbreaks in low-income settings.

Kamalini says:

“ANU saw that helping people in poor countries was not only the right thing to do: it was the smart thing to do.”

The Chief Health Officer of WA, Dr Andrew Robertson says:

“As someone working on the front line of COVID-19, at both a state and national level, it has been invaluable to be able to draw on Associate Professor Lokuge’s expertise, as one of the few people worldwide with experience in successfully controlling multiple high-risk pathogen outbreaks.”

Dr Meru Sheel was deployed through the WHO to Papua New Guinea (PNG) provide technical COVID-19 assistance to the PNG National Department of Health. While there, her responsibilities also included engaging with high-level stakeholders and working on the ground with field teams.

Dr Meru Sheel

In Australia, Meru has contributed to a COVID-19 operational research study amongst health workers in North-West Tasmania, helped develop training material and teach contact tracers for ACT Health, and advised on Indigenous training materials.

In addition to her academic and field work, Meru has been a top COVID-19 media expert. This includes penning opinion pieces that set news agendas, providing practical advice to the public via multi-platform media channels, and appearing on numerous radio stations. Meru’s potential media reach was estimated to be around 36 million in May 2020, and millions more since then.

“I am grateful for this recognition. I am thankful to the people that inspire me personally and professionally to do this work. This recognition I hope is also an acknowledgement of the work done by infectious diseases experts globally, many of whom are my colleagues and friends. And most importantly, I am looking forward to ‘paying this (the nomination) forward’ next year.”

** Joint winners for this award were also presented to Associate Professor Sanjaya Senanayake and Professor Peter Collignon AM, infectious diseases experts from ANU Medical School.

Andrew Hopkins Award for Excellence in Health and Safety

The COVID-19 Taskforce, instigated by College of Health and Medicine Dean, it comprises over 50 experts from multiple disciplines across the University, and is chaired by Professor Darren Gray from RSPH.

Professor Darren Gray

Members of the Taskforce are responsible for advice on how the University operates its campuses during the pandemic to ensure staff and student safety. They provided expert advice on COVID-19 transmission and control to university leadership early in the pandemic, which helped inform the VC’s decision for the University shutdown and re-opening process.

The Taskforce has worked to ensure the safety of ANU staff and students through the development and implementation of safety guidelines and protocols, COVIDSafe Campus Alert System, communications to raise awareness, and advising the control of campus activities.

"The taskforce is a multidisciplinary team of exceptional people who were tireless in responding to this pandemic. This is truly a team award."

Says Professor Darren Gray.

Clare Burton Award for Excellence in Equity and Diversity

Professor Lyndall Strazdins is a world-leading researcher on the relationship between work, family and wellbeing, and supports this with her actions to promote inclusivity, equity and diversity at ANU.

Professor Lyndall Strazdins

Her research demonstrates how the unequal demands on women to provide family care has generated health and gender inequalities, and recently crystallised the significance of time scarcity in the innovative concept of the ‘hour-glass ceiling’.

Her work is not just academic, however. Lyndall vigorously promotes inclusivity, equity and diversity across the axes of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity and ability. Most recently as Director of RSPH, she has shown herself to be both an inspirational and compassionate leader, promoting inclusivity for both academic and professional staff and students. Lyndall has been influential in sensitizing the ANU to the unequal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on patterns of work and care, especially during periods of home-schooling and campus lockdown.

Professor Lyndall Strazdins’ work is not just useful but transformational in promoting equity and diversity.