Johnson Diversity Series – Fighting the War on Infectious Disease with Dr. Meru Sheel
With a deep interest in understanding infectious diseases and how to fight them, Dr. Meru Sheel completed undergraduate studies in Biotechnology in India. This burning focus saw her later migrate to Australia on a full scholarship to undertake her PhD in Life Sciences at Queensland University of Technology.
Growing up in India, Meru developed a passion for curing infectious diseases early on in her life when one of her family friends was diagnosed with polio; likely due to missing a vaccination, which led to paralysis in both her legs. Inspired by her friend’s struggle to overcome the disease, Meru’s interest in learning more about vaccines was piqued.
Fast forward 15 years, and she is now an infectious disease epidemiologist working at the Australian National University. Her incredible contribution to society was recognised by her win in the Science & Medicine category of the 40 under 40: Most Influential Asian-Australian Awards.
Meru’s passion and drive towards the betterment of public health has seen her combatting infectious disease outbreaks in different parts of the world. For example:
- In her current role, she also works with the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network and the World Health Organization to combat the scourge of COVID-19.
- In 2018, she made one of her most significant contributions to her field by leading a team of public health professionals in response to the Diphtheria outbreak among the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, which is the world’s largest and densest refugee camps with over 700,000 people.
- In January 2020, she was deployed to Tonga to support the Tonga Ministry of Health respond to the measles outbreak in the country. Due to emerging needs, her role pivoted towards urgently supporting the country to prepare for the COVID-19 outbreak, which had started to spread rapidly in China hours after she arrived in Tonga.
In 2019, Meru was awarded the prestigious Westpac Research Fellowship worth $500,000 for her exceptional work in improving global health security. She aims to use this Fellowship to uncover the best strategies to tackle a range of infectious diseases. She will be conducting operational research in health emergencies to strengthen global health security and build resilient public health systems.
Meru has achieved great things since arriving in Australia, contributing towards improving the lives of thousands of people across the globe. The journey hasn’t always been straightforward and has encountered discrimination and challenges as an Indian-Australian woman.
Winning her category in the 40 Under 40 Awards was probably the first time in her life she stopped to reflect on, and appreciate, her achievements. Meru is extremely proud to be acknowledged for her contribution and to be seen as an inspiration to others. “Imagine a world where there are no impediments to people like me who want to have a positive impact”.
See the other category winners and learn more about the 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asia-Australian Awards.