Leader in COVID fight honoured

Eugene Athan. (Supplied)

By Luke Voogt

A professor leading in Geelong’s fight against COVID-19 has earned an Order of Australia Medal for his services to infectious diseases medicine.

Barwon South West Public Health Unit director Eugene Athan has overseen local vaccination, which he describes as “ahead of the pack” in Victoria, and local contact tracing.

“We can easily say that we have prevented many thousand of cases … in the Barwon region,” the Torquay father-of-two said.

Professor Athan led health workers who contained abattoir outbreaks in Geelong and Colac, and others who prevented dozens of deaths treating about 50 patients hospitalised in Geelong last year.

He said helping to protect his community was “hugely rewarding” but warned the pandemic would have ongoing effects for years to come.

“It’s a massive undertaking ahead of us.”

In the early 1990s Professor Athan, then a young doctor, fought another pandemic, HIV, among Melbourne’s gay community, and in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

A lack of resources and equipment in Africa frustrated him as he treated people with HIV, cholera and pneumonia, but he cherished connecting with the locals.

Fighting HIV and COVID-19 are just part his decades-long career battling infectious diseases, which includes co-authoring or contributing to more than 180 peer-reviewed articles.

While the global scientific community has long predicted a COVID-like pandemic, Professor Athan believes governments are now better equipped to respond.