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Paul Tambyah to become first S’porean to head International Society of Infectious Diseases

SINGAPORE — Infectious diseases physician Paul Tambyah from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has been named president-elect of the International Society of Infectious Diseases (ISID), becoming the first Singaporean to hold the position.

Professor Paul Tambyah’s term as president of the International Society of Infectious Diseases will begin in 2022.

Professor Paul Tambyah’s term as president of the International Society of Infectious Diseases will begin in 2022.

SINGAPORE — Infectious diseases physician Paul Tambyah from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has been named president-elect of the International Society of Infectious Diseases (ISID), becoming the first Singaporean to hold the position.

His term as president will begin in 2022. For now, Professor Tambyah, 55, will support the current president, Prof Alison Holmes of Imperial College London, in running the organisation, NUS said in a statement on Wednesday (June 17). 

ISID is a United States-based non-profit organisation with a focus on helping developing countries with limited resources that disproportionately bear the brunt of pandemics.

Started in 1986, the society, which has a network of more than 90,000 people worldwide, aims to support health professionals, non-governmental organisations and governments in finding solutions to infectious diseases. 

In an emailed response to TODAY on Wednesday, Prof Tambyah, who is also a senior infectious diseases consultant at the National University Hospital, said he was honoured to have been elected to the post “despite the challenging environment”.

His first encounter with the society was more than two decades ago, in 1998, when he presented his research as a postgraduate infectious diseases trainee at the International Congress of Infectious Diseases in Boston, US, organised by ISID. 

He was later part of an organising committee for the congress when it was held in Singapore in 2002. 

Prof Tambyah said that Prof Jonathan Cohen, a former ISID president, had asked him to run for the post.  

“I agreed as I felt it was time to have a president from Asia, and that I could contribute to the society’s mission in improving infectious disease care in low- and middle-income countries,” he said.

“Also, this would present opportunities for clinicians and scientists in Singapore to get involved in the region and the world of infectious disease.”

But the medical veteran acknowledged that the appointment could not have come at a more challenging time when the Covid-19 pandemic has forced the postponement of major scientific meetings, and strained international collaboration and funding. 

Nevertheless, he believes “the strong staff, under the leadership of Prof Holmes, will weather the storm”. 

Asked about his plans for the society, Prof Tambyah said that he would like to build on the work of Prof Holmes, and strengthen an “emerging leaders” programme that mentors young scientists from around the world and connects them with academics in major centres. 

“I would also like to get the global health programmes in (Singapore’s) three medical schools and connect them with the professionals in the countries where ISID is active,” he said.

Singapore’s three medical schools are the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at NUS, where he is a professor of medicine, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at Nanyang Technological University and the Duke-NUS Medical School.  

Prof Tambyah added that Singapore can play a “tremendous role” by sharing its knowledge and resources in containing and controlling infectious diseases. 

Prof Marc Mendelson, a former president of ISID, said that Prof Tambyah was well-known to all in the infectious diseases field. “(He) brings a wealth of experience from his time with multiple international societies and august bodies as well as formidable experience across the spectrum of infection, including outbreaks, tropical medicine and clinical applied research,” Prof Mendelson said. 

A doctor since 1988, Prof Tambyah is also president of the Asia-Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection. He also headed the Singapore Society of Infectious Diseases from 2011 to 2015.    

Away from medicine, Prof Tambyah is the chairman of the Singapore Democratic Party.

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ISID Paul Tambyah

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