Virus-detection pioneer wins Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize

Thursday, 20 June, 2024

Virus-detection pioneer wins Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize

The 2024 Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize has been awarded to Professor Gertjan Medema in recognition of his breakthrough research and significant contributions in the field of wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE).

Launched in 2008, the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize honours individuals or organisations that have made outstanding contributions towards solving the world’s water problems by developing or applying innovative technologies, or implementing policies and programs that benefit humanity. The prize is awarded at the Singapore International Water Week, a global biennial event that gathers together experts from governments, cities, utilities and industry to share knowledge and best practices on innovative water, coastal and flood solutions.

Medema’s research revolutionised the application of WBE for virus detection in wastewater during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When COVID-19 emerged in early 2020, Medema, a renowned microbiologist and expert in water quality and health, recognised the need for early detection and monitoring. He and his team began collecting wastewater samples across the Netherlands to test for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Their research swiftly became focused on curbing the spread of the virus in the community through wastewater surveillance. This led to detection of the virus in the wastewater of several cities before any cases were even officially reported in these areas.

Medema’s first publication on the use of WBE in public health surveillance attracted substantial attention, with over 1400 citations and more than 34,000 views between 2020 and 2023. Wastewater surveillance has since been adopted worldwide as a cost-effective and non-invasive method that provides valuable insights into the prevalence of the virus in a community.

Image caption: (L–R) Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, Prize Council Chairman; Professor Gertjan Medema, Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize 2024 Laureate; Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, President of the Republic of Singapore; and Professor Leo Tan, Board Member of Temasek Foundation. Photo credit: SIWW2024.

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