UP academic wins African Academy of Sciences prize for improving access to hearing healthcare services

University of Pretoria (UP) academic Professor Daniël Christiaan de Wet Swanepoel has been awarded the African Academy of Sciences’ (AAS) science prize for his innovative research in tele-health and mobile health, specifically in the field of audiology.

Prof Swanepoel, of the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology in the Faculty of Humanities at UP, won the 2020 Olusegun Obasanjo Prize for Scientific Breakthrough and/or Technological Innovation. “It is an honour to receive this prestigious award; it serves as further inspiration to see access to healthy hearing become a reality for every African,” he said. He is the third South African to win this award, and will receive a prize of $5 000 (about R75 000).

UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe said the University prides itself on having on its staff a driven researcher of the calibre of Prof Swanepoel. “The University of Pretoria is proud of the innovation that Prof Swanepoel has driven throughout his career. His work has tapped into disciplines beyond his own, and his trans-disciplinary initiatives prove that determination, and indeed our humanity, knows no bounds. This award is a singular honour, and I am delighted that the African Academy of Sciences has chosen to bestow it on such a deserving colleague. My heartfelt congratulations to you, Prof Swanepoel!”

Prof Swanepoel has collaborated on and conducted several research studies on using smartphone technologies to provide equitable access to hearing healthcare services, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Four years ago, his team developed a world-first smartphone app called hearZA, which enables people to test their hearing within three minutes. If hearing loss is detected, the app recommends the nearest audiologist. “The app’s accuracy to identify hearing loss exceeds 90% and generates a personal profile, allowing users to track their hearing ability over time,” explains Prof Swanepoel.

The AAS awards this particular prize, which is named after former Nigerian president Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, every two years to honour African scientists who have made outstanding contributions in scientific discovery or technological innovation. Winners automatically become Fellows of the AAS as individuals who have reached the highest level of excellence in their field of expertise and have made contributions to the advancement of the field on the African continent.

“Congratulations to Prof Daniël Christiaan de Wet Swanepoel for achieving this feat,” said president of the AAS Professor Felix Dapare Dakora. “This award is a testament to his ingenuity in audiology and his dedication to improving the quality of life of Africans suffering from hearing impairment. As I extend my congratulations to him, I also welcome him to our growing membership of Fellows.”

Prof Vasu Reddy, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, said Prof Swanepoel’s compassion motivated him to come up with practical solutions for challenging problems. “This is a truly momentous achievement for Prof Swanepoel, and recognises the groundbreaking work he has developed throughout his career,” he said. “His compassion for people who live with impaired hearing but cannot necessarily afford expensive treatment has driven him to find solutions that are both affordable and accessible. The Faculty of Humanities is proud of his achievements and on its behalf, I offer Prof Swanepoel sincere congratulations.”

The prize will be presented to Prof Swanepoel at the 12th AAS General Assembly, which will take place virtually from 7 to 9 December and be co-hosted with The British University in Egypt. He will also deliver a public lecture during the event on 9 December.