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Profile: Prof Liesl Zuhlke

Prof Liesl Zuhlke is the 2018 recipient of the prestigious African Research Leader Award in recognition of her groundbreaking work with children suffering from cardiovascular disease.

A Paediatric Cardiologist at the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital in Cape Town as well as an associate professor with the University of Cape Town. Prof Zuhlke is widely regarded as an emerging leader in cardiovascular medicine on the African continent.

She trained as a Paediatric Cardiologist in Cape Town and Dusseldorf, Germany and has a Master's Degree in Public Health in clinical research methods. Her doctorate at the University of Cape Town provided new insights on outcomes of symptomatic and asymptomatic Rheumatic Heart Disease.

Prof Zuhlke's major research interests lie in Rheumatic Heart Disease and congenital heart disease. At the Red Cross Children's Hospital, she worked as the clinical co-coordinator of the Awareness Surveillance Advocacy Prevention (ASAP) Programme, managing several large scale RHD projects in South Africa and on the African continent.

In this capacity, she was instrumental in the development, coordination and management of the largest prospective Rheumatic Heart Disease registry the Rheumatic Heart Disease Registry (the REMEDY study) involving 25 sites, in 12 African countries, Yemen and India and is currently the national leader of the INVICTUS study, which aims to enrol over 30 000 Rheumatic Heart Disease patients.

Prof Zuhlke has received numerous awards, including an academic excellence award from Discovery, NIH Fogarty Fellowship, Wellcome CIDRI and Thrasher awards and the Hamilton Naki Post-doctoral Clinical Scholarship, an award given to clinical scholars of excellence.

She is the immediate past president of the Paediatric Cardiac Society of South Africa, President of the South African Heart Association and the chairperson of the Pan African Society of Cardiology Paediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery Task force.

A previous Board member of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa, she is now on the board of the Hatter Institute for Cardiovascular Research and is co-director of Rheach (Rheumatic Heart Disease-Evidence, Advocacy, Communication and Hope), the recipient of one of the largest grants from Medtronic Philanthropy for work in Rheumatic heart disease.

The initiative will be providing scientific and technical support for Global Rheumatic Heart Disease programmes over the next five years.

She has also established a research unit for paediatric and congenital heart disease, the Children’s Heart Disease Research Unit, which is based at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town.

Prof Zuhlke is involved in research projects spanning congenital and Rheumatic Heart disease, HIV in adolescents, Grown-up Congenital heart disease and cardiac disease in women of childbearing age. She has leveraged funding for several major research projects in South Africa and the rest of Africa, with new collaborations internationally, the recent being an MRCUK Global Challenges Research Fund – Foundation Award with colleagues at Manchester university.

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