Medal for medical pioneer

A scientist who stops the spread of deadly diseases been awarded the Edinburgh Medal 2017.

Prof Peter Piot receives the Edinburgh Medal from the Lord Provost - image credit Neil Hanna
Prof Peter Piot receives the Edinburgh Medal from the Lord Provost - image credit Neil Hanna

Professor Peter Piot co-diiscovered the Ebola virus, has carried out critical research and campaigning into AIDS and is credited with championing woman’s health in the developing world.  

He was presented with the Edinburgh Medal on behalf of the Science Festival and the City last night (Monday, 10 April) by the Lord Provost, Donald Wilson. Academics gathered in the City Chambers to celebrate the award and to hear Prof Piot present his Medal Address, Are We Ready for the Next Epidemic? 

Prof Peter Piot is the Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and a Professor of Global Health. He has held key positions in the United Nations and World Health Organisation. In 1976 he co-discovered the Ebola virus in Zaire while working at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium, and he has subsequently led research on HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and women's health, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. He has received numerous scientific and civic awards including an honorary doctorate from seven universities and was a 2014 TIME Person of the Year (The Ebola Fighters).

He argued that the human race is more prone to zoonotic epidemics (caused by infections that are zoonotic in origin which means they come from animal hosts, e.g. influenza from poultry or pigs) than ever, due to a complex set of drivers including demographic change, climate change and environmental degradation, changing agricultural practices and ecosystems and an increasingly interconnected world through international travel and trade. He also explained how HIV, one such zoonotic virus which passed to humans from chimpanzees, has become a global pandemic affecting more than 70 million people across the globe.

Capitalising on the memory of the Ebola crisis, Professor Piot closed with a call for the human race to strengthen our preparedness for epidemics and argue that in our interconnected, hyper-globalised world the real fear is a pandemic that could be spread via respiratory infection. 

The Edinburgh Medal was instituted by the City of Edinburgh Council in 1988. Each year this prestigious award is given to men and women of science and technology whose professional achievements are judged to have made a significant contribution to the understanding and well-being of humanity.

Edinburgh’s Lord Provost, Donald Wilson, said: “For centuries, Edinburgh has blazed a trail for scientific innovation, invention and debate. Every year, the Edinburgh International Science Festival reminds us of the Scottish Capital’s great fascination with discovery. Perhaps most importantly, it also celebrates the strides still being made in science and honours those people and organisations who make a lasting contribution.

“This year ,we honour Professor Peter Piot, whose quest to address AIDS and international women’s health has led to worldwide action and, whose co-discovery of the Ebola virus remains at the forefront of microbiology.

“Not only has Prof Piot’s research made waves in our academic understanding of pandemics – his leadership and activism has been crucial in challenging world leaders to address socio-economic concerns at the root of the problem.

“I am honoured to present the Edinburgh Medal 2017 on behalf of the City and the Festival to Prof Peter Piot tonight. By recognising pioneers such as Peter, I hope we can continue to inspire our young people to follow similar scientific paths.”

An exhibition about Prof Piot can be found at the National Museum as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival until Saturday 15 April. 

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