Queen’s New Year Honours awarded to leading Southampton academics for services during the COVID-19 response

Two leading academics from the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Medicine have been awarded MBEs in the Queen’s New Year Honours for 2021.

Medical Doctor and Clinical Scientist Professor Keith Godfrey, receives an MBE for services to Medicine during the COVID-19 response. More specifically, he has led in conceiving, developing and successfully executing the pivotal saliva test programme in Southampton to assist the UK government in negotiating its emergence from the COVID pandemic.

Professor Godfrey, who is Professor of Epidemiology and Human Development in the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton, is Theme Lead of the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, and Honorary Consultant within the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.

In early April 2020, with the pandemic lockdown fully implemented and the impact of COVID-19 becoming apparent, Professor Godfrey was part of a national group of senior public health clinicians and epidemiologists who wrote to the government pointing out that extended periods of lockdown will increase economic and social damage, and noting disparities that would become more pronounced the more severe the national situation.

Stimulated by these discussions, he went on to assemble a large interdisciplinary team of experts in public health, social science, behavioural science, education and infectious disease molecular biology, developing a partnership between the University of Southampton, Southampton City Council and the NHS to deliver a hugely ambitious pilot programme for weekly testing with rapid scale up to mass population testing once the testing strategy is proven.

The data generated by the programme led by Professor Godfrey will have pivotal importance to the national confidence in measures to prevent transmission of infection, and will permit informed management of any secondary spikes of infection which arise in the future.

“It is a huge honour to be recognised in this way, but this really is a tribute to a truly dedicated team who have worked tirelessly to mitigate the worst effects of the COVID epidemic on the most vulnerable in society. The team has formed a strong partnership between the University of Southampton, the Aspire Community Trust, Southampton City Council, the Animal and Plant Health Agency in Weybridge and the NHS. Working together, we have made enormous progress in developing saliva-based testing to reduce the risk of infection transmission in educational and other settings in Southampton, to give confidence to students, staff, parents and local communities, and to inform national policy and coronavirus control measures elsewhere across the country.”

Professor Diana Eccles, Dean of Medicine at Southampton said: “I am truly delighted that Keith is being recognised in this way for his incredible and tireless work to devise, develop and deliver the amazing Saliva testing programme that has been such an important part of our University, hospital and city response to COVID-19. He has lead the entire programme, worked with colleagues across the University, the hospital, the City Council and Government on an extraordinarily complex project. This national honour recognises the leadership he has demonstrated in navigating so successfully the many challenges and potential pitfalls on the way to delivering what we all recognise as one of the best outcomes for a population in the country.”

Dr Nisreen Alwan, Associate Professor in Public Health at the University of Southampton, receives an MBE for services to Medicine and Public Health during the COVID-19 pandemic. The honour follows her inclusion in November amongst this year’s BBC 100 Women joining others from around the world who have led change this year in STEM, the arts, media, economics and education.

Earlier this year, during March and April 2020, Dr Alwan co-led a national group of senior public health experts and epidemiologists producing multiple outputs and open letters to the government on the UK pandemic response, including one on the proposal of COVID-19 universal weekly testing which was the first step in the initiation of the weekly saliva testing pilot in Southampton.

In addition, she was one of the first to advocate measuring and addressing morbidity from COVID-19, an aspect of pandemic response that was largely ignored until recently.

Dr Alwan’s persistent scientific and public advocacy has also been instrumental in the recognition of Long COVID on a national and international level and, throughout the pandemic, she has also focused on the importance of intersectionality and addressing ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities during the pandemic. Her frequent calls for further resources and investigations into the effects of Long COVID have been a prevalent theme of her engagements on social media, mainstream media, webinars and journal articles.

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw the email notifying me of the MBE. I am so honoured and grateful to be nominated and feel a huge responsibility to continue contributing to society in a meaningful way. A big thank you to all those who supported me during this difficult year. Through the work I did, I connected with so many kind, dedicated, and wise people. This gives me hope and energy to always seek positive change”.

 

Professor Diana Eccles, Dean of Medicine at the University of Southampton said: “This award is richly deserved as Nisreen has made an outstanding contribution to the COVID-19 response. She was a key driver in the Southampton city saliva testing programme, particularly the public health-driven concept for a population testing strategy to deal with the pandemic, and more recently has been one of the key opinion leaders in the international debate around long COVID. Small surprise that she has recently been named amongst the BBC’s 100 Women and as a leader of nationally-recognised work on intersectionality. She and is a wonderful role model and ambassador for the Faculty of Medicine and the University of Southampton.”

 

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