Cervical cancer researcher awarded the Order of the Baobab
Prof Lynnette Denny, Head of Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Groote Schuur Hospital and University of Cape Town, was awarded the Order of the Baobab last year November. We find out what this means to her and more about her research.
Prof Lynette Denny (64) lives in Greenpoint, Cape Town.
Order of the Baobab
When Prof Denny received an email from the Presidency, she almost deleted it. “I thought it was junk mail as I didn’t know anything about it. It came out of the blue.”
The email stated that she was to be awarded the Order of the Baobab (silver) for her distinguished service in medicine: as a leading researcher in cervical cancer and its association with the human papillomavirus (HPV).
“Once I realised it was real, I was delighted. It recognises the work of my various teams; no one can do the kind of work we have alone. It provides recognition of the importance of doing research; many people think research is a luxury but it’s a necessity, and focusing on poor women. So much of science just ignores people who are poor, or from low, or middle-income countries,” Prof Denny says. “This award acknowledges service to your country and my life and work is all about service, and it’s a great privilege to be of service to your community.”
“The ceremony was beautifully organised and it was wonderful to meet the President. He was very gracious and present. My sister came with and it was a great experience.”
Clinical and academic career path
Since graduating from medical school in 1983, Prof Denny has worked at Groote Schuur Hospital. She attributes staying in the public sector for nearly 40 years to being a bit of an old-fashion socialist who fervently believes health is a right and should be provided and accessible to all. She goes on to say she strongly supports the public sector as it’s where all health professionals are trained and where the majority of socioeconomically disadvantaged groups are treated.
In 1993, Prof Denny qualified and practiced as a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology. She then sub-specialised as a gynae-oncology surgeon. In 1994, she completed a Master of Medicine, and in 2002, she obtained her PhD. This was the same year she became Associate Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, UCT. Three years later, she became Full Professor and stills holds this position. In 2011, she was appointed Acting Head of Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Groote Schuur Hospital. By 2013, she was appointed Head of Department/Chief Specialist with full tenure, and still holds this position today.
For the last year and a half, Prof Denny hasn’t done any clinical work due to a recurrence of breast cancer. The cancer metastasised to her bones and she underwent a major surgery to her spine. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the same mobility as she used to have. However, she stills trains many doctors to do the work and runs the department from an administrative and academic side, and continues her outstanding research.
Prof Denny started an active research programme, in 1995, in the prevention of cervical cancer in disadvantaged women, in collaboration with Columbia University, New York. The research is funded by the National Cancer Institute. Her team work out of shipping containers that have been converted into clinics in Khayelitsha and to date they have screened approximately 60 000 women.
The global research team have developed alternative protocols for the prevention of cervical cancer (opposed to Pap smears) and these protocols, using cell phone technology and algorithms, have been implemented in the Netherlands. The goal is to supply the SA Department of Health with the cost-effectiveness and evidence of these protocols once the five-year study is completed. The research programme is currently in year two.
HPV vaccine rollout programme
Prof Denny says that the SA HPV vaccine school rollout programme sounds like it’s doing well; she is still waiting for more details. However, she notes the programme needs constant attention as there are so many other things that are competing for attention. She believes that every boy and girl under 13 should be vaccinated and that the screening process should be streamlined.
We thank Prof Denny for the years of dedication to her research and, most importantly, when she is facing her own cancer journey.
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